Andy Sachs' cell phone rang just as she was feverishly writing. She was just finishing up the last par on her latest story in her series on mayoral office corruption. All she needed was the perfect ending. She frowned as she considered her options, then brightened, bashing out another sentence. Not bad. She grinned.
"Sachs!" someone shouted across the newsroom. "Answer your phone! And change your damned ring tone. K-pop is over, for Christ's sake."
She blinked and realised it had been ringing for a while. She fished out her cell and growled "City Desk, Sachs", as she typed another sentence then glanced across to the wall clock. She should make the website's afternoon deadline by a minute.
"Andrea," a throaty voice purred down the phone. A voice she hadn't heard for two years. A skitter shot down her spine. "I trust you know who this is?"
Andy froze in shock. Every muscle ceased to function. The pen she'd forgotten she was absentmindedly chewing dropped from her lips to clatter on the desk.
"Yes," the voice cut her off quickly. "Now listen to me closely: You have three minutes to gather your things, everything … sensitive … and go to the rear entrance of your building. Do you understand?"
There was a harsh intake of breath. "Two minutes fifty five sconds."
"No arguments. That's all."
The phone clicked dead.
Andy stared at it for a moment, then sat unmoving as she contemplated her next move. Redial and demand an explanation from the editor of Runway, a woman renowned for never explaining herself. A woman she had deserted in Paris two years ago and who would have as much interest in offering explanations to Andy as approving twerking as a fashion inspiration.
Or she could do as she instructed.
Or she could ignore her. It's not like she still worked for her.
"Sachs!" came a voice from the online team. "How far off are you from filing? We're holding the site's front page for you!"
Miranda's voice came back to her. "Everything sensitive." The Runway editor knew something. She had to. If only for the fact she'd rung out of the blue, it meant something bigger than both of them had to be afoot. And if she'd wanted to hurt her, Miranda had had ample opportunity in the past. Instead she'd given her what amounted to a glowing reference (by the editor's standards at least), and then pretty much ignored her thereafter. It was far more than she'd deserved, given all that had transpired.
"I have to check something first, Steve," she called out, and grabbed her laptop, digital recorder, and any notebooks relating to her scandal series. She crammed them into her laptop bag along with her contact book and a couple of printouts of stories that had yet to run.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Sachs!" Steve bellowed. "We've been holding the main slot for you."
"Then don't," Andy said, looking around for anything else that could be deemed 'sensitive'. "I can't send till I know for sure it's right."
He bought her line and answered with an acknowledging grunt. Andy glanced at the clock again. Two minutes fourteen seconds down. She grabbed her bulging bags and carryall and bolted for the rear entrance. She burst out onto the street with seconds to spare and spotted a familiar town car.
Roy, Miranda's driver, was standing beside it and opened the rear door.
"Hey Andy," he said and nodded politely. "Nice to see you again."
"Roy," she said giving him a warm smile. "It's been too long."
"If you two could forgo the misty-eyed reminiscing," came a cutting voice from inside the car, "we need to be underway immediately."
Roy shot Andy an apologetic look and shut the door after Andy tumbled in, her possessions spraying across the back seat.
"Miranda," she said, and forced herself not to apologize for her chaotic entrance. After all this little catch up wasn't her idea. She began to gather up her things.
Miranda handed her back a tattered notepad between pincer fingers, that had bounced against her thigh. The car accelerated smoothly away.
"OK, I'll bite," Andy said as she corralled everything haphazardly back to her side of the car. "What's with the cloak and dagger routine, and stopping me twice from saying your name over the phone?"
Miranda hit the button raising the security screen and cocked her head to regard her former personal assistant.
"I have it on extremely good authority that in precisely five minutes New York's finest will be raiding your rag of a paper in an effort to find the name of your confidential source. I cannot tell you how I know but I can tell you that this is a fact. Now do you have any sensitive information related to that mayor story stored at home? Because that's going to be raided next."
"I…" Andy screwed up her face, trying to think. She shook her head. "No," she said. "Nothing work related. B-but can they do that? I mean, I should go there and…"
"No," Miranda said sharply. "That's an amateur mistake. The police are under orders to compel you to give up your source if they can't find any documentation, and if that means charging you with contempt or obstruction of justice, they will."
"Fuck!" Andy said. "Oh. Uh, sorry."
"Indeed," Miranda said neutrally and turned to stare out the window.
"Miranda?" Andy asked curiously,"Why are you helping me?"
"It's time that cesspit in the mayor's office got cleaned out," Miranda said with a sniff. "More than a few of us think so. The man's attacks on the publishing and media industry, which in case you've forgotten is also a field I work in, are just the tip of the iceberg. The inside information I have been privy to of what he plans next is alarming. And the fact the mayor thinks a newspaper raid is an acceptable way to run things is further proof he's gone too far. So in the interests of this story continuing to be told, I think it would be better for you not to go anywhere you normally would and file from a safe place."
"Well that's a great idea but I don't know where to go."
"Nigel has offered his spare room," Miranda said. "Or you can stay with me if you wish. The girls, for some unfathomable reason, apparently miss you."
"Miss me?" Andy repeated doubtfully. "It's been two years. They still miss me?"
"Didn't I just say that? Have you grown hard of hearing since you last worked for me?"
Andy smirked, not buying her ex-boss's prickly exterior for a moment. God, she was like no one else, though. "No Miranda. Still have my hearing. I kinda miss the scamps, too. It's very generous of you."
"Well," Miranda snorted. "It's self interest, really. The sooner that mayor falls, the better for all of us. That reminds me - if you need access to a full suite of office services to continue filing your stories, Runway's facilities are at your disposal, too. But you must keep a low profile. And stop using your cell as of this minute. It's traceable and is likely to be tapped after today as they try to find you. In fact take the battery out immediately."
"I have a story to file very soon," Andy said, digesting this and grabbed her cellphone, removing the backing and battery. She reassembled it. "I just need an internet port for my laptop."
Miranda nodded and leaned on a button. "Roy, Runway."
She glanced at her and then paused, cool blue eyes raking over Andy's outfit. "Three-year-old True Religion jeans? Really Andrea. Did you learn nothing?"
"Well you try sticking to the latest designer wear on a lowly reporter's wage and see how you fare," Andy said.
Miranda sniffed - which almost counted for agreement, Andy decided - and opened her phone, selecting a number.
"Nigel, bring me the new Claudia J. that came in yesterday in Andrea's size. Matching shoes." She paused. "Well of course her shoe size is the same, don't be absurd. Meet us at the front. That's all."
She snapped the phone shut. "The key to being under the radar is blending in in plain sight. Which means when you are at Runway you will stay in my outer office at all times, and under no circumstances are you to do that silly quirk of yours." She waved her hand towards Andy's face as if that explained everything.
"Quirk?" Andy asked in confusion.
"That over-the-top beaming smile, as though you're selling beachfront real estate in the Bahamas. Everyone will recognize you at once. Try and think of dying kittens, or Republicans winning office or whatever makes you morally upright liberal journalists whimper in your sleep."
"Oh," Andy said. "Uh. OK. No smiling. Check. You don't think they'll recognize me anyway? Runway's staff?"
"It's been two years," Miranda said dismissively. "You were one assistant among a sea of them. I have had 17 in your absence. And you're not exactly memorable to anyone except my inner circle who already know to keep quiet. So - just keep your head down."
The town car glided to a halt outside the Runway building and Andy saw fashion director Nigel Kipling scurrying to the curb holding a dress bag and navy heels. Miranda cracked the door and accepted them, murmuring "Nigel" the way anyone else would murmur a thank you. She shut the door.
Miranda passed the dress over and dropped the shoes on the floor at the reporter's feet.
"Well?" she asked as Andy stared at it in bafflement.
"Um, Miranda, you want me to change here, now? In … the car?"
Her former boss peered at her as though she was exceptionally stupid.
"Did you fall down and smack your pretty little head? Did we not just go through all the reasons you must look like you fit in at Runway? This outfit you are presently assaulting my eyeballs with is like an emergency klaxon that will draw every eye in the building to you. So get changed now," she ordered, thrumming her fingers against the tinted window's rest.
She stopped and leaned across, quickly unzipped the clothing bag still clutched in Andy's hands and revealed a beautiful dark blue dress.
"Must you take all day?"
"I can't do this now," Andy said, blushing furiously. "Not with you watching."
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Miranda snapped. "I have lost count of how many models I've seen in various states of undress. Trust me, it's nothing I haven't seen before."
"Well good for you but I'm not a model," Andy said, scowling. "I mean it – I'm not stripping with an audience."
Miranda rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. She pushed a button. "Roy, pipe in the local radio news."
And then she turned and pointedly stared out the window. "Well?" she said to the glass. "Hurry up.
Andy moved quickly, shimmying out of her jeans and blouse as they all listened to the news bulletin.
"And in breaking news to hand, we have several independent reports that the New York Mirror offices are being raided as we speak, as police reportedly hunt for information about the source of stories detailing corruption in Mayor Bruce Cantrill's office. The series, by Mirror reporter Andy Sachs, claimed that campaign funds to the tune of $765,000 cannot be accounted for and that the money's loss coincides with a series of property investments, new cars and a college fund paid for by Cantrill's family members which add up to exactly $765,000."
Andy wiggled into the dress and did her best to pull it down past her hips and thighs while perched on the edge of her seat. She glanced up at the darkened passenger side windows only to see hooded blue eyes now studying her in the reflection. She hissed and snapped her head around.
"Miranda," she scolded and met her eyes.
Miranda didn't seem remotely bothered at being caught and merely pursed her lips. "So prudish," she noted. She leaned over and snapped up the zipper sharply on the side of Andy's dress. "Your mid-western sensibilities are showing."
"… Police sources say they have been unable to locate Sachs or her notes, frustrating their efforts to find the confidential source rumoured to be in the inner sanctum of the mayor's own office. The Mirror's editor, Greg Hart condemned the action and called the raid a grave day for press freedom in the United States."
"Thanks by the way," Andy said, slipping on her heels as the news bulletin ended. "I would have gone to jail rather than name names, but I'd rather have not been put in that position in the first place."
"I was well aware of that," Miranda said. "Your upstanding morality was one of the reasons you fled me, if I recall. So you wouldn't be like me, isn't that right?" Her nostrils flared in disapproval. "I felt that you were unlikely to have changed since then. Nigel agreed with me."
"That's not why I left," Andy said and looked around for somewhere to stuff her clothes and shoes.
"Leave your clothing here," Miranda said. "Roy will take us back to my townhouse tonight anyway."
"What if I choose to stay with Nigel?"
Miranda froze. "You would prefer …" She started, an unidentifiable expression flitting across her face before her expression hardened. "It is your choice. Suit yourself."
"No," Andy said. "I didn't mean I would. It was a hypothetical."
"And I already explained my girls would prefer you at my home. It is not an offer I make lightly."
"I know. OK. Sure, I'll, uh, stay with you."
Miranda nodded tersely and opened her door. "Now that's settled, come along Emily."
"Well, you may as well play the part."
Andy laughed. Miranda never changed.
"No, no, none of that. I've already warned you," Miranda said sternly. "Remember: Dying kittens."
Miranda had been right – no one even noticed Andy. Apparently young women in designer outfits trailing behind Miranda and answering to "Emily" were hardly worth a second glance. The security guard barely looked at her visitor's pass.
When the elevator doors opened in the lobby, Andy paused uncertainly as Miranda strode inside. The older woman shot her an impatient look and inclined her head.
"You let me share your elevator," Andy murmured once the doors shut. "People will notice."
"I can't trust you lolling about the lobby on your own," Miranda said, idly adjusting a costume jewellery ring on her right hand. "Your inability to stay silent for more than five seconds or cease that …" she waved her hand airily "incessant beaming of yours would blow your cover in minutes."
Andy leaned against the lift wall and eyed her former boss challengingly. "You know I'm a cynical journalist now, right? Hardly a chattering ingénue."
Miranda's eyes glittered. "If the Choo fits."
Andy laughed and her smile broadened when she noticed Miranda's lips twitch.
They watched the numbers creeping up for three floors until the reporter realized what was different.
"What gives?" she asked, straightening. "I can walk faster than the elevator's going. This used to be lightning fast."
"Yes," Miranda sighed. "I'm well aware. It's a maintenance issue. They've been saying for two months they're working on it. It takes upwards of four minutes to reach Runway's floor now."
"Four minutes?! So do you add four minutes to the time you tell your assistants they have to get you your Starbucks by?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Andrea. Where would be the challenge in that?" Miranda asked, eyes half lidded. "Besides, I understand some of my assistants have become quite efficient now at taking the stairs."
"It's nineteen flights!"
Miranda shrugged faintly, seemingly unconcerned.
So. Conversation closed.
Andy drummed her fingers impatiently on the steel hand rail and stared briefly up at the ceiling. Wonky reflections stared down at her. She repressed the urge to pull a face.
"Do you always fidget this much?" Miranda asked testily after awhile. "Must we order restraints for you?"
Andy grinned. "Restraints?" It came out way more innuendo-laden than she intended.
Miranda pursed her lips. "You know, I think I preferred you when you were still afraid of me."
Andy broke into a lazy smile. She fluttered her eyes closed, feeling the slow upwards pull against her back where she leaned against the elevator wall. "I was never afraid of you, you know," she said honestly. "I wanted to impress you, sure. Actually I wanted to dazzle you just to wipe the smug expression off your face half the time," she confessed.
"Smug expression?" The words were icy and precisely enunciated. Her nostrils flared.
Andy cracked an eyelid. "Oh, please," she sighed and closed her eyes again, hypnotised by the thrum in the walls. "You know exactly how smug you can be. I'm not even arguing it's unwarranted. You're an incredible businesswoman. It's just … annoying for your employees at times. But my point is wanting to please you is not the same thing as fearing you."
She opened her eyes when Miranda didn't immediately reply.
"You were afraid of me though," Miranda said in her most dangerous whisper. She shifted closer and Andy noticed the hint of exotic scent. "In Paris. When I explained all the ways we were actually alike." Her lip curled down. "You recall you hated being told that everyone wants to be us. And you fled in horror, clutching your superior morals around you like a cloak."
Andy exhaled. "So it's confessions in an elevator, huh?"
"It's this thing my friends and I used to do at college. This one building had a creaky old elevator and we'd joke it was just slow enough to confess our sins but not so slow that we'd have to face the consequences."
"You're making little sense."
"Well we began this game, that what was said in the elevator, stayed in the elevator. We would never mention it outside unless the confessor chose to bring a topic up again. It was our safe zone. A cone of silence. No consequences. It was useful to get stuff off our chests. I found out my friend Doug was gay in that elevator. And when Lilly first fell in love."
"You wish to get something off your chest?" Miranda purred. Curiosity burned in her sharp eyes.
"I think we both do," Andy suggested cautiously. "About Paris."
"My conscience is clear," Miranda said tersely.
"Is it? Even after what you did to Nigel?"
"I made things up to Nigel long ago. Can you say the same for how you conducted yourself?"
Andy reddened. "I'm sorry," she said. "It was unprofessional. How I left."
"Understatement of the epoch," Miranda said archly. "But it's not the abrupt exit that I was referring to. And I did get that twee card of apology you sent a month after you cut and ran."
"You want to know why I did it then?" Andy asked anxiously.
"I do not," Miranda said, biting the final word sharply. "That was also self explanatory. Your judgmental doe eyes need no subtitles. But the night before it happened, however, has me … perplexed." Her eyes slid slowly up to Andy's.
The reporter froze. She never thought Miranda would ever bring that up. Her moment of weakness after Miranda had appeared before her, exposed. Vulnerable. Hurting. Red-eyed, scrubbed free of make-up. Achingly beautiful.
When Miranda never said a word the next day about Andy's momentary lapse, she assumed she never would. To spare both their blushes.
Andy swallowed anxiously, her face on fire.
"Well do tell. This is a 'safe space', after all," Miranda mocked. "No consequences, I believe you said?"
Andy felt those eyes drilling into her and she winced, looking down. "Maybe another time," she whispered.
Miranda pinned her with a hard stare as Andy's courage sputtered, then burnt out.
"I see," the editor said and pursed her lips. "How disappointing. Yet again."
A silence fell between them.
Miranda cleared her throat as the elevator's number finally neared floor 19.
"I have temporarily placed Emily Charlton back on her old duties for the duration of your stay. The fewer people who know who you really are, the better. My usual assistants have been reallocated elsewhere. You are free to research and write and use our office facilities. But you will play the part of an assistant whenever others are around who don't know who you are. A professional assistant."
Andy's head snapped up at the warning seared into the sentence.
"Yes," Miranda drawled. "To be clear, that means no fleeing my side in dismay should someone have the gall to point out you have an ambitious streak."
Andy winced at the derision dripping from her voice. The elevator dinged.
The doors opened and Andy followed Miranda who pulled out her cell phone immediately and made a call only three words long.
"My office, now."
Emily Charlton rounded the corner moments later in a waft of in-season silk and overpowering perfume as Andy unpacked her bags and notes at her old second assistant desk. Miranda had already vanished into her office with a dismissive: "That's all".
Sharp blue eyes landed on Andy. "Oh, right," Emily huffed. "It's you. So it's time then."
She sighed and settled into her old first assistant desk, facing Andy, adjusting her swivel chair, and shooting her an accusing look. "You'd better bloody bring down the government since I have to suffer a temporary demotion for you."
"That's the aim," Andy said pleasantly. "Good to see you, too, Em. You look great. Thin enough to see through."
"Suck-up. Seriously, though, tell me you'll get the job done. That man is creepy."
"I will," Andy said firmly. "I have enough dirt to keep Mayor Cantrill on the front page for another two weeks."
"Good. All right, I suppose it's OK that you stay then. Besides, a fat lot of good you'd do anyone in prison. Although the mugshot alone would almost be worth it. Make me a great Christmas card." She picked up her phone and dialled an extension.
"This is Miranda Priestly's acting first assistant Emily Charlton. I need a security pass for a new second assistant. Yes. Today. Her name's ..." She paused and hissed at Andy, covering the receiver. "Who do you want to be?"
"Emily Wah?" Emily repeated to Andy with an eyebrow tilt. "By all means - Asian is very 'in' this season. You'll be on trend for once in your miserable, unfashionable life."
"Emily!" Andy protested. "Don't you dare."
"Well hurry up then. Choose."
"Andrea Tomlinson. It's my mother's maiden name."
"Are you insane?! I'm not asking for a pass in Miranda's ex-husband's surname, you bleeding idiot."
"Oh shit, I forgot. Andrea … er…."
"You can't call yourself Andrea, either!"
"It's a common name! Why not?"
"But when Miranda says it, it's distinctive. People will remember that at least."
"She won't call me that. She's going to call me Emily. And everyone else knew me as Andy. It's less complicated if I don't have to learn to respond to an entirely new name."
"Yes, I'm still here," Emily suddenly spoke into her phone. "Sorry for the delay. We need a pass for an Andrea Duncan. Thanks. I will email you her photo and details at once."
"Duncan?" Andy hissed as Emily put down the phone.
"As in, Dunkin' Donuts. In honor of your carbs habit." Emily's eyes sparkled wickedly. "Don't say I never celebrate your 'differences'."
"Hey, I'm still a size four," Andy growled as she rummaged through her things looking for her laptop cable. She fished it out triumphantly and began uncoiling it. "And you are truly evil. I say this as someone who now writes about human despair and corruption for a living."
"Pfft. As if I can take anything seriously from the woman who eats corn chowder."
Andy glanced up and let a little of her newfound grit show. "You don't want to know all the crap I've seen and done since I worked here but your weird Runway food fetishes are the least of my worries.
"You know I once had this thug threaten to break my legs after I wrote a story about his family's crooked dry cleaning business. And here's the thing – he was only thirteen! His crowbar was bigger than he was! I almost laughed.
"It's so messed up what's outside Runway's doors. In here it's all just fantasy. A weirdly sarcastic bubble of froth and nonsense," Andy said earnestly. "So if you're done with all the fat cracks and eye rolls, I have to get to work." She plugged her laptop into the Ethernet port on her desk and prodded the computer's power button. "One of us has a deadline to meet."
Emily stared at Andy as if trying to work out whether she was for real. Her phone began to ring but still she studied the brunette, her expression finally flickering into something approaching respect. She flapped her hand dismissively as she reached for the phone. "Fine," she told Andy with a sniff. "Truce. Now go lynch us a shady mayor."
It had not taken long for Andy to finish and email her story to Steve. He shot her back an email ten minutes later.
"Stupid asses," he wrote. "I mean who in the hell raids a newspaper office then gets astonished when we're in their faces filming the whole thing, filing our copy and tweets live on the website? The mayor's looking like a freedom-hating douche right now.
"You knew didn't you? No wonder you took off when you did. And don't tell me how you found out. Just stay away and file remotely like you're doing. But don't go back to your apartment. Cops went to raid it when they came up clean here. Now, if you ever need to talk to the editor, find a non traceable phone, call our switchboard, ask for Lisa Burns in Marketing and she'll get Greg on her line to talk to you. It's just in case the boss's phone has 'ears' now.
"By the way, he told me to say 'good job' on that last wrap. That'll have Cantrill squirming. We'll splash it this evening right next to the raid coverage. Oh, and heads up, we're running a page one sidebar profile on you, too. Hope you like being famous, kid. Cheers, Steve Owens."
Andy re-read the last par again then jumped to her feet in a panic, about to head to the street and find a payphone when Emily appeared out of nowhere to drop a cell phone on her desk.
"Compliments of Miranda. It's completely clean – the IT department did something to it, don't ask me what, my eyes glazed over when they explained – and it's loaded with credit. Miranda says if you 'lose' this one like you did the last one you can expect to be up for the bill. Her sarcasm; my air quotes."
"How does she know what happened to the last one?" Andy asked, a little spooked. There was no way her former boss had seen her toss the ringing device into a fountain in Paris.
"Yes, Miranda sat me down and shared all about your flighty escapades around Paris," Emily said. "Honestly, Andrea, how should I know? Now take it and be bloody grateful."
Andy picked up the phone and examined it. Two people had been entered into its contact database. Miranda and Emily. She called The Mirror switchboard.
"Lisa Burns in Marketing, please," she said.
The phone rang until an older woman's voice answered pleasantly.
"Hello, um, Greg Hart asked me to…" Andy began.
"Oh yes, this is … of course. I'll get him. Hang on."
Moments later she heard her boss's voice. "Well you sure set the cat among the pigeons. Thirty years in journalism and no one has ever raided one of my papers. Till you came along."
"Uh. Sorry?" Andy squeaked.
"Hell, don't be sorry, it's great. This will double our circulation tomorrow and I've been interviewed by every TV and radio station in the city and quite a few nationally. I need you to email Steve a first-person statement commenting on the raid as well. Something about how shocked you are by it and you aren't going to be bullied to back down. We'll run it on page one tomorrow with that profile about you."
"Um, about that profile – Greg, I don't really think I want to be the story."
"Too late, kid, you are now. We'll find a nice pic, don't worry. Remind me, where the hell did you work before here? Vogue or something? I have my secretary hunting your resume now. Hell the readers will eat this up. Unlikeliest career shift ever." He laughed.
"Greg, ah, you can't say where I worked before this. Trust me. You really don't want to."
There was a pause. A deep intake of breath. Andy wondered just how smart her boss was as he turned her comment over in his head.
"I see. Least, I think I do. We'll talk about you editing that college paper instead, right? Wholesome mid-western kid comes to the big city and blasts apart entrenched corruption. That'll work, too. OK, so three pars on what you think of the raid, in by six. Thanks. Stay safe and as far as hell away from here as you can. Gotta go. G'luck."
The phone went dead.
She sat back in her chair, a little uncertain as to what to make of the call. She hadn't become a journalist to be turned into a celebrity. Or worse, a newspaper's publicity tool. She stared at the cell phone and then tossed it onto the desk in distaste.
"What's wrong?" Emily asked, looking up. Then she blinked and put up her hand. "No, never mind, I just realized I don't care. Just keep it all on your side of the office. I think my complexion would clash with prison orange anyway."
She rose and gave a shake of her red hair. "Can you watch the phones? I need to dash to the loo."
"Sure," Andy said, still in a daze.
Miranda walked out of her office. "What did your boss say? Mr Hart is it?" she began then stopped. "What's wrong? Did you herniate something?"
Andy shook her head. "He's turning me into the damned story. Now people will know what I look like and who I am. And I'll be a target, too. You know what social media is like. I'll be out there."
"And you won't be able to hide anonymously any more," Miranda finished for her. She eyed her for a moment and said quietly: "It's a disconcerting feeling being famous. Losing a part of yourself. Losing control of what people know about you and say about you."
Andy nodded. "I'm not ready. I don't know if I'll ever be. This isn't why I became a reporter."
Miranda's expression was inscrutable as she studied her. "Yes, they will judge you now. Enemies will probe your life. Treat you like public property. Even when you didn't ask for it. They'll want more. They'll write more even if you don't give them anything."
"And you can't understand why your editor is doing this to you?"
"Really? You can't understand why he's pitting his photogenic idealistic young reporter against the unappealing corrupt mayor? Andrea, the moment that raid happened, your editor had to find a way to put a face on the fight for press freedom that would make the public care. To share his outrage. Of course he was going to co-opt you as the paper's poster girl. This was inevitable."
Andy bit her lip. "I can't believe you agree with him."
Miranda eyed her. "He does what's necessary to win. So do I. And, frankly, so should you. Your privacy is collateral damage for the bigger goal. To stop Cantrill."
"But it's so ... Why can't my work stand for itself – on its merits? This is unnecessary."
"I seem to recall less than an hour ago you glibly told me you weren't some clueless ingénue," Miranda said, eyebrows rising. "It's never just about the work. If it was, Rupert Murdoch's hit squad would care more about the magazine I create that employs hundreds and inspires millions than who their Devil is seen eating with this week." Her lips thinned.
"The question is not 'are you ready' but how you deal with it. It's only fame. Fight it or use it on your own terms. But don't cry about it. Save your tears for what really matters. It's time to grow up, Andrea.
"Now after you've put on your big-girl pants and grown a spine, track down my mystifyingly AWOL first assistant and tell her to get me a dozen scarves from Patrick's indigo collection. We need to redo the spread on page sixteen. That's all."
Miranda stalked off without another word.
Andy stared after her in acute humiliation mixed with anger. Grow a spine?! Her cheeks bloomed with heat. She finally turned to find Nigel leaning against the door to the outer office. His face was a picture of curiosity.
"Well, well, an ethics debate before lunch? That's a first in here. And you've only been back 30 minutes, Six. What do you do for your next trick?"
Andy gave him a delighted grin and enveloped him in a hug. "Nigel! I've missed you! For my next trick? I bring down a corrupt mayor. But only after I put on my big-girl pants apparently," she said with a wry grimace.
"Well, Six," he snickered, "fortunately for you you're in a place with a plentiful supply."
Andy worked solidly for a few hours, stopping only to have a late lunch at her desk and answer phones for Emily when she took her break. Her story was developing well but she knew the raid would take up most of the column space for the next few days.
She also jotted down three paragraphs of suitably outraged thoughts about the raid to email off to Steve. She slumped in her chair after it was gone, fretting again about what it would mean for her life now, if this story was to make her as famous as The Mirror's online editor thought.
"Emily," she heard waft through the glass and Andy glanced over to see the redhead obediently shoot to her feet. "New Emily," Miranda corrected and Andy started in surprise. She grabbed her notebook out of habit and headed into the office.
Miranda was standing, hand on hips, silently observing a live press conference on a small LCD TV on her desk. Andy frowned. She hadn't seen a TV in her office before. She glanced at the screen. Oh hell. Mayor Cantrill.
"Shit," Andy muttered and, without even thinking to ask, pulled up the visitor's chair and began to take furious notes using Miranda's desk. As she listened, her eyes grew wider.
"He's denying it? Calling our paper beat-up merchants and slanderers?!" Andy muttered half to herself, scribbling even faster. "But I have all the paperwork, you lying little..."
She felt the fashionable sentinel standing at her side pivot to regard her and didn't finish the sentence.
The press conference wrapped up, no questions allowed, with Cantrill inviting his family on stage for a photo op. It was so cheesy that his four adult children looked hugely embarrassed. Still, they grinned on cue and waved awkwardly. The eldest suddenly lifted her head and Andy got her first good look at the mayor's daughter. Lisa Cantrill looked right down the camera, looping her arm around her father's waist and giving him an affectionate squeeze. She smiled lovingly up at him.
Andy's breath hitched as she studied the woman closely. Blonde. 45. Beautiful. Well dressed. Killer hair. Sensational kisser.
Andy's confidential source.
She felt cool eyes on her again and glanced up to see Miranda's curious expression.
"I have a meeting now," the editor said curtly. "Come, Emily."
Andy frowned, but was too busy reeling from what she'd just seen to question why her presence was required when she didn't even work for Miranda.
Emily shot her a confused look as Andy followed the white-haired woman, and they stepped into the elevator together.
Two seconds after the door closed Miranda turned on her.
"That woman's your source."
"Which woman?" Andy stalled, flustered.
"The blonde copying my hairstyle – badly," Miranda noted imperiously. "She's not even bothering to hide it."
Andy knew exactly what she meant. Lisa did have Miranda's hair, down to every last whorl. The only difference was it was blonde, not white. But then plenty of women in New York did like to emulate the undisputed fashion queen.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Andy tried weakly.
"And you haven't denied she's the source." Miranda considered her for a moment and tapped her lip. "Interesting. Everyone thought it was actually someone in the mayor's office."
Andy swallowed. "I didn't say it was her."
"You didn't have to. You gasped when she reacted warmly towards her father. Why? It's not an uncommon thing, even if that was just a publicity stunt. Unless you knew something about her that would make what she just did seem shocking. Such as, oh I don't know, releasing documents to you that implicate him in a great many criminal acts."
Andy's eyes widened. Miranda's brilliant mind was breathtaking at times. Keen eyes glinted at her reaction.
"Andrea, everyone schemes, everyone wants a piece of everyone else. Everyone wants to get ahead. I have thirty years in business – and fashion is as political as any of them – and I know when a game is being played."
"Uh, OK?" Andy said in confusion.
"And now I have serious concerns."
"The mayor denied that your documents were correct," Miranda began. "So he is trying to suggest he is not guilty."
"Yeah. I saw that. And he's lying."
Miranda's lips pursed and she shot her a look as if she was exceptionally dense. "Yet he also ordered a raid on your paper to find the source, which suggests that someone gave you accurate information. But in doing so, that makes him look guilty."
"So he's a fool? And?"
"Underestimate your opponent at your peril, Andrea." Miranda gave her a withering glare. "Cantrill is a seasoned political operator. He's well aware of the mixed message he's sending. Now for God's sake, work out why. Do. Your. Job."
The doors opened on Level 3 and Miranda glided out and turned. "I have a meeting with Irv. In the meantime try not to disappoint New York with your incompetence. That's all."
Andy's mouth dropped open as her former boss sailed off down a corridor. The elevator doors closed and she jabbed '19' harder than she needed as she digested what had just happened.
So – Miranda clearly still thought she was an idiot. And she also seemed to be wanting to help her. Or, maybe, guide her?
But why did Miranda care who ran New York? She'd never been especially political before.
Andy trudged back to her desk and started to consider scenarios to answer Miranda's pertinent question. It was odd. If you want shit swept under a carpet, you don't go ordering showy newspaper raids which imply you really do have something to hide. Nothing made much sense.
"What was all that about?" Emily asked as Andy sat down. "Traipsing off after Miranda?"
"Hell if I know," Andy mumbled. "She's acting weird. It's like she's trying to help me or something. Like, mentor me?"
Emily snorted. "Dream on."
"No, I mean it. She asked me into the elevator …" Emily's head shot up in surprise. "…And then gave me some direction on the political aspects of my story that aren't adding up. And then she insulted me as always." Andy finished with a wry grin.
Emily stared at her incredulously. "God. What is it with you, anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why are you so damned special? You're always the exception to every bloody rule. Fat, fashionless, clueless. Special elevator invites. It's like she can't get enough."
"She wouldn't let us say your name for six months after Paris," Emily said darkly. "Six months! We spent the entire time creeping around on egg shells, terrified because she was in the foulest mood. And yet she refused to blacklist you. I can't tell you how many assistants we've been through during her bloody reign of terror since you gallivanted off…"
"Seventeen," Andy said helpfully.
"Sevent… How the bleeding hell did you know that?"
"Miranda told me."
Emily shot her a scathing glare. "Oh my bloody God, kill me now. She's been counting! There, see? Proof you have bewitched her somehow with your corn-fed, fat-assed charms. It's appalling. A sign of the apocalypse."
Andy stared at her, waiting for the punchline, because like hell Emily was serious about Andy's absence having the tiniest effect on Miranda.
At being greeted with just a sullen, baleful silence, Andy continued uncertainly: "You're crazy. I know I'm nothing special."
"Finally. Something we agree on." Emily turned away and began to type viciously. "But don't think I'm clueless to whatever this is. Christ. I think I need some carbs instantly. You of all people."
Andy blinked at her. Emily could not possibly be hinting at what Andy thought she was hinting at. No, not possible at all.
"Why are you gaping at me like a guppy? Don't you have a mayor to destroy? That heathen is trying to drop funding to New York Fashion Week and says taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for, and I quote, 'stitches and bitches'. All the leading designers are apoplectic at his attitude."
"Oh! That's why Miranda cares!" Andy said. She exhaled. Finally something made sense.
"Oh yes," Emily said sarcastically and paused her typing to peer at her like she'd lost her mind. She sniffed. "That must be it."
It was just after nine when Andy finally finished her last draft of her latest wrap for the evening deadline and she felt a presence at her side.
"Done?" Miranda declared more than asked. "You can't stay here all night. That's what I pay Emily for."
Andy looked over to see Emily's desk was empty and Miranda holding The Book. She shot her former boss a cheeky smile. "Well, not tonight it seems."
Miranda did not deign to comment on the obvious.
They rode the elevator down quietly for awhile before Miranda spoke.
"So, this confessional space of yours," she began with an eyeroll, "it seems only effective if you actually confess something."
"True. Or you could," Andy suggested boldly. "Like tell me something I'd never guess in a million years."
"You first," Miranda said and eyed her sideways. "Tell me how you know that source of yours. Lisa Cantrill. I could tell it's personal. How personal?"
Andy froze. This was not how it worked. Surely Miranda knew in publishing you don't go blathering about your sources. God! What the hell?
"I can't Miranda," Andy said stiffly. "I just can't..."
"I see," Miranda cut her off and looked away.
Andy fidgeted anxiously. It was like an icy sheen had descended down the elevator walls. She thought quickly, desperate to change the subject.
"I've thought about what you asked earlier," Andy said. "I think the mayor wants me to produce the documents. My line of 'according to documents sighted by The Mirror' that I've been running in each of my stories must be pissing him off. I think he's denying they're real just so we'll have no choice but to run them. He's trying to force my hand for some reason."
She knew her theory was sound and glanced up at Miranda expectantly. "It's kind of mystifying, though. What do you think?"
Miranda ignored her for a few moments. Long, tapered fingers whitened around The Book.
"You know what I find is truly mystifying?" the editor said, her tone Arctic. "Irving trying to cut my budget again. Twenty per cent! But will he cut his own budget? Heaven forbid he has one less four-course meal a week. He might have to forgo his croquembouche. Now does that make sense, I ask you?"
"Croquembouche," Andy repeated dumbly.
"I don't know," she said helplessly. "He's an ass?"
"It's more than that," Miranda sneered. "Much, much more. It comes down to fairness and trust, don't you think? If he did anything actually trustworthy for once, I might see my way clear to making allowances, helping out on occasion. Possibly even be an ally to him as I see fit. But without trust, why would I bother? What's the point? Answer me that, Andrea. Hmm?"
"T-trust?" She stared at Miranda who held her gaze with cool, reproachful eyes. The penny dropped. "You think I don't trust you?"
Miranda's eyebrows lifted derisively and she looked up at the white LED numbers slowly counting down.
"Miranda, I haven't seen you in two years and you sweep in out of the blue and you want me to tell you who my source is …" Andy said desperately. "Look, I can't willy nilly divulge names to just anybody. It doesn't work like that. You must know that."
The editor's eyes flashed darkly. "Just anybody?" she repeated. She studied her fingernails. "And remind me: How is it that you and I are able to be free to have this frank conversation when by rights you should be in jail after being arrested for refusing to name your source this morning?"
"I once trusted you with everything," Miranda continued, eyes still coolly fixed on the numbers. "The Book – which is my life – and the keys to my home, where my Bobbsies live. Where I live. But by all means, let's hear all about your burning need for more trust. From me."
She pinned Andy with a fierce stare. The reporter saw a flash of hurt burning in its depths. She felt her guts knotting.
"I'm sorry, Miranda," Andy breathed out. "You're absolutely right. You're not just anyone. And I do trust you. Really. More than anyone."
Miranda pursed her lips. "Well then. Your source. The mayor's daughter with the derivative hairstyle. How do you know her?"
Andy sighed. "We met at my gym," she mumbled. "We got to talking about politics and realised we had the same taste in music and art and everything else and she asked me out. We went out a few times. She's witty and smart and really, hilariously vicious about her dad's world views.
"Then one night I was at her place, waiting for her to finish getting ready, and I saw some documents lying out on her coffee table. The mayor's name was on the top one, so I couldn't resist glancing at it. They were papers of ownership for several properties transferred to her name. Her father was signature witness in one of the sales. That was the moment – the first time I even realised who she was. I'd had no clue at all – I mean her name's not that uncommon. And you know the mayor's kids never do public appearances usually.
"But I didn't get what was going on immediately. I remember thinking: Wait, she lives in a tiny apartment. But these apartments in her name were hugely expensive. So, what gives? I took a photo of the papers on my cell phone. And that's when she caught me."
Miranda was listening intently.
Andy winced as she recalled the awful scene that followed two weeks ago. "Lisa went ballistic. She knew all along I was a journalist, but she accused me of being with her just to get the dirt on her dad. Then she said she didn't care anymore, that she was sick and tired of his bull, always using her name in all these dodgy schemes while he was acting like some paragon of virtue. She threw the papers at me, told me to 'roast the hypocrite' and that she hoped I 'burned him to a cinder' in The Mirror. Then she kicked me out and has refused to see or talk to me since.
"The papers contained everything. Not just the list of assets that were in her name, but what all the other family members received – because Lisa was the witness for their transactions. Add it all up, and it came to the amount that was reported missing from the campaign funds in that mayor's office audit."
Miranda stared at her for so long that Andy wondered if she would even speak.
"You dated her?" Miranda said, eyes hooded. "That Miranda Priestly wannabe?"
"N-no," Andy said anxiously. "I dated Lisa." She fidgeted.
"That's what you took away from this?" Andy asked in astonishment.
"Answer the question."
"How's it relevant?"
"Trust is a two-way street," Miranda purred. Her index finger tapped impatiently against The Book.
"It seems pretty one-way right now," Andy retorted. "And why do you care?"
The doors dinged and opened.
"Saved by the bell," Andy exhaled and exited ahead of Miranda, relieved to be stepping out of the stifling elevator into the lobby's cool night air.
The twins were up when they arrived at the town house, and Andy was relieved because the silent treatment she'd endured from Miranda on the way home was getting old. The editor had only spoken once, when the car pulled up outside a laundromat Andy knew all too well, and both women had stared at each other.
"My drycleaning, Emily," Miranda had ordered snidely.
Andy shot her a shocked look. "I'm not your assistant, I'm a reporter."
"Not a very good one, if today is any indication," Miranda whispered in dulcet tones.
Andy had been so enraged, and grateful for the space away from Miranda it afforded, that she leapt out of the car and got the woman's damned dry cleaning.
She virtually threw it in her face. That had gone down about as well as could be expected. Icy silence had endured the rest of the way home.
Caroline and Cassidy sat side by side on the couch and stared at Andy in the facing chair. A Spanish Inquisition would probably have felt less intrusive. Miranda had greeted the twins, told Andy where her guest bedroom was located, and then disappeared into the kitchen without another word.
"Andy, why'd you leave our mom?" the taller of the two, Caroline, asked.
"What did she tell you?" Andy demurred, eyes shooting towards the kitchen, wondering why Miranda had bolted. And whether she'd be back.
"Mom said that you got a better offer than her, at some newspaper," the other one said. Cassidy, Andy recalled her name was. The little girl frowned. "But that's not true. What could be better than working for Mom? She says a million girls would kill to work for her."
"True," Andy sighed and leaned back, rubbing her eyes. They were gritty from too much screen work. "Guess I'm one in a million and one then. Now, if you're done with the twenty questions, I've got one for you two."
The girls nodded in unison.
"We haven't seen each other in two years, and we weren't that close when I left," Andy began, "so why did you tell your mom you missed me and wanted me to stay here?"
The girls turned to look at each other, myriad emotions flitting across their faces, and then glanced back.
"You did tell her that?" Andy asked slowly.
"Yes," Caroline admitted. "We have our reasons."
"Good reasons," Cassidy confirmed earnestly.
Cassidy shook her head. "She missed you big time," she said and folded her arms adamantly. "More than even that douche Stephen."
"Cassidy!" Andy gasped.
"Well it's true," Cassidy insisted. "He was a douche. He was cheating on her, did you know that? Mom found out during the divorce. You wouldn't cheat on her though, would you?"
"Cheat? As in … ah… you think me and your mom could be like a, um…"
She faded out, not quite sure she was hearing things right. These two were still just little girls.
Caroline eyed her crossly. "Why can't you keep up? Mom said you were the smart assistant. Well – are you?"
"What, smart? Well I did pretty well at college and…"
"No!" Caroline interrupted and rolled her eyes spectacularly. "Loyal! Will you be loyal to our mom? We don't want you to cheat. That's number one. And you have to stay and make her happy, not run away and make her upset for ages like last time. OK?"
Andy's eyes widened. No way. The girls were definitely leaping to the wrong conclusion. And when they said she had to stay, did they mean for her to stay as a friend or stay as …
Miranda returned, an odd expression on her face. Andy tried and failed to place it.
"Girls," she said, "It's late, you should be in bed. Say good night to Andrea."
"Night, Andy," Caroline said and gave her a quick hug, that she returned.
Cassidy repeated the action but lingered longer, whispering in her ear, "Stick around. But don't you dare hurt her."
Andy stared numbly after them as they left.
"You three seem to be getting on well," Miranda said neutrally. She hesitated. Then sat on the couch her daughters had just vacated.
Andy nodded, unsure if 'well' was strictly accurate. Inquisitions and veiled threats, on the other hand…
"Andrea," Miranda said stiffly and stopped. She looked pained. "I should not have told you to get my dry cleaning. You were correct. You are no longer my assistant. I trust you will not let that lapse in judgment get in the way of …" She waved her hands vaguely between them as if that explained everything.
Andy noted there was no actual apology. But when was there ever? Miranda never apologized, nor explained. Still, she took the olive branch.
"Well, thanks for putting me up, and your help today," Andy said. "Sorting out my thoughts. A lot going on," she grinned and tapped her head. "Sometimes an outsider sees with more clarity. I think I'm on the right track now."
"Indeed." Miranda said, in her maddeningly neutral voice. She stared at Andy for an awkwardly long moment. "Is that how you see me now? An outsider?"
Andy wasn't sure what to say.
"I…" She faded out helplessly and licked her lips. Miranda's eyes tracked to them.
"Why did you kiss me in Paris?" the older woman suddenly asked and leaned forward, eyes burning with intensity. She seemed almost angry.
"You were beautiful," Andy blurted. And then she blushed and clapped a hand over her mouth, startled at her honesty.
"I was 'beautiful'," Miranda repeated in disbelief. "No, I was without make-up, I was vulnerable, devastated and a twice-married, fifty-two-year-old mother of two about to face the divorce courts a third time. And you – you, my female assistant half my age – thought that you should take that moment to kiss me. Because I was beautiful." She pinned Andy with a fierce, lancing stare.
"Yes," Andy admitted, her mind bringing up her brain snap that saw her shift to her knees in front of Miranda, clasp trembling, pale hands, and impetuously press her lips feverishly to Miranda's. She'd felt the older woman's pulse leap under her stroking hands, and then a sharp jab of pain after finding herself sprawled on the floor where Miranda had violently pushed her, eyes wide with shock. "I know it wasn't my finest hour. Or minute. Whatever."
"Such presumption," Miranda hissed. Her face morphed to disdain. "And then you ran straight into the arms of Christian Thompson."
Andy winced in embarrassment, flushing the deepest red. A night to forget. Rebound lust for the love she couldn't have? If that wasn't an old, old story.
Miranda looked at her intently, impatiently curling forward, poised like a coiled animal, ready to spring. Andy had never felt so much the centre of someone's attention.
Andy nodded, because her vocal cords appeared to have atrophied.
"You appear indecisive with your affections," Miranda said softly. Dangerously. "Or remarkably fickle."
Andy bit her lip. She gave a hollow laugh and shrugged. "Try impulsive."
"Ah," Miranda said and every ounce of pent up energy seemed to leach out of her. She rose slowly and offered a cool nod. "A fling. A game." Her lips thinned faintly. "Now I see. Thank you for making this clear."
"Wait," Andy said, panicked. Miranda was never a game to her. Because she seriously doubted they were still talking about Christian. "No. I didn't mean …" She tried to gather her thoughts. She couldn't confess the truth. That she'd wanted to kiss Miranda for so long. That seeing her with her guard down had lowered her own and made her heart swell with an ache that made her want to hold her and comfort her until she looked less broken. Instead she'd kissed her. It hadn't been planned but it had been from a place of fierce, protective love.
In the silence, as Miranda waited for the rest of the sentence, Andy looked into cold, confused eyes. She shook her head, helpless to explain, and closed her mouth.
"I have to review The Book," Miranda said curtly. "I leave at seven tomorrow should you wish to make use of Runway's facilities again. Now I'm really quite busy. You can see yourself to your room. That's all."
And in three rapid strides, she was gone.
Andy had showered, dressed and grabbed a granola bar from Miranda's well-stocked pantry and was waiting by the door by seven the next morning. She hadn't slept much, tossing and turning and reliving all the ways she might have answered Miranda's question.
Why did she kiss her?
She was beautiful. Her softness and vulnerability were more appealing to Andy than Miranda in her most resplendent designer gown. Because she had been human and approachable and the sight of such unexpected cracks in her welded-on mask beckoned to a part of Andy she didn't know she had.
So she'd kissed her. Kissed her when Miranda's formidable prickles had been flattened and battered. She'd stroked her trembling hands, dusted her breath across an alabaster cheek, puffy and stained with tears, and lowered her lips to full ones widening in a gasp.
It had taken a week for the pain from the lump on the back of Andy's head to go away from where she'd landed after Miranda indignantly tossed her aside. And it had taken almost a whole day for Andy to even notice the pain in the first place because of what else had happened during that kiss.
That thing that Miranda hadn't talked to her about. And how interesting was it she hadn't?
Andy nibbled her granola bar quietly and waited for Miranda to appear. Her thoughts wandered as she eyed the home she had once been tasked with dropping Miranda's Runway mock-up book off at each night. She was so accustomed to creeping around the austere rooms in a professional capacity, it was unnerving to be here in a private one.
She still felt like an interloper.
Andy swallowed the last of the granola bar and pocketed the wrapper discreetly in her tailored suit. The fabric was to die for - exquisitely cut and in a stunning azure blue. It probably cost more than Andy earned in four months.
When she'd opened the guest bedroom's closet the previous evening, she'd found an array of clothes suspiciously in her exact size. Andy knew the invitation to borrow them was there, though it would likely never be spoken aloud.
She might have considered just wearing her own clothes to minimise the amount of trampling she was doing in Miranda's life, but she hadn't exactly had a chance to pack an overnight bag.
She frowned as she thought about the guest closet. Exactly how long had Miranda had to prepare for her stay anyway?
"The Lin Po Collection," Miranda declared as she floated down the stairs, eyeing her outfit. "Acceptable choice." Eyes flitted to Andy's then away. "Roy's outside. Come along."
The imperiousness was back. Andy bit her lip to avoid an acerbic remark about reporters not being assistants - but they'd pretty much covered that last night when Miranda apologised. Or, rather, didn't. Whatever.
The car ride was silent beyond Miranda enquiring as to whether the room had been adequate to her needs. Andy had nodded, murmured her thanks, and that had been the end of small talk. It was probably the most Miranda could endure of it voluntarily anyway, at least not without the threat of white-hot pokers.
They were in the Runway elevator inching slowly skywards when Miranda finally spoke once more.
"Here we are," she said, eyes fixed on the rising numbers. "In your little confessional space. Do you have anything to add to yesterday's startling admissions?"
"I believe it's your turn actually," Andy said, eyes fluttering to the woman at her left. She studied her for a moment. A tight intricately patterned skirt - some new designer whose label escaped Andy - showed off Miranda's trim hips to elegant effect. And a silky cream blouse beneath her matched jacket, plunging down three buttons into a shadowed, enticing cleavage. Andy licked her lips. "You said, 'You first' yesterday. Which means now it's my turn to hear from you. Fair's fair." Andy grinned hopefully, even as her heart thudded at her boldness.
Miranda's nostrils flared and for a brief moment Andy thought she was about to become a statistic in one of those infamous Runway myths - something about Miranda stashing the bodies of her displeasing assistants.
At least she hoped they were myths.
"Stephen," Miranda said suddenly, appearing to surprise them both, "cheated on me." She spat the words and folded her arms and then shot Andy a dark look. "I made him pay. My lawyer cleaned him out. He'll have to beg favors from his barely legal girlfriend to make rent."
She lifted her chin and then stared back at the numbers.
"I'm really sorry," Andy said. "Like the twins said, he was a douche."
Miranda's head snapped around so fast, Andy was surprised she hadn't given herself whiplash.
"They said WHAT?"
Shit. Andy groaned inwardly. "They, um, thought he was a douche. And they may have mentioned he'd cheated on you. That's pretty much all they said on the subject."
"And they divulged this to you in the mere minutes I was in the kitchen last night?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Why?" Andy glimpsed the rigid set of proud shoulders from the corner of her eye.
Miranda was silent for a few moments then exhaled. "They have never even mentioned his name," she said. "I ... was unsure as to their thoughts on the divorce. Or him. We never properly discussed it. And I certainly wasn't aware they knew about ..." She slashed her hand through the air. "Candice. The 19-year-old secretary my investigator caught Stephen on the desk with. And under it. That made for a particularly unflattering 8x10."
"Well, they didn't name her," Andy said and shifted uncomfortably. "But it's good isn't it? That the girls didn't like him and he's now gone?"
"Good?" Miranda repeated incredulously. "It can't have escaped even your oblivious notice the delightful time I endured with Page Six throughout my divorce. Speculating on who would be next and whether I had icicles inside my chest."
Andy scowled. "They're assholes, Miranda. Total assholes," she said adamantly. "And of course you have a heart. I sure as hell know that."
Miranda froze. Andy almost bit through her tongue at what she'd said. "Oh! I mean..."
"Do tell," the editor said softly and leaned forward. "Precisely what did you mean?"
"Uh..." Andy's eyes darted desperately to the floor number. They were still only at 6. She cursed the maintenance malfunction slowing it to a crawl. "That night," she whispered feebly, "In Paris. Is what I meant."
Miranda's cheek's reddened and her eyes began to flash. "When you found me in disarray?"
Andy swallowed and shook her head.
"When you kissed me," Miranda guessed archly.
"When you kissed me back," Andy corrected quietly.
There was the longest silence followed by a waspish snap. "I have no idea what you're talking about." Miranda's tone was predictably outraged. Her eyes, though. God, her eyes. Wild. Icy. Turbulent.
"Yeah you do have an idea," Andy said carefully. "It's OK. Look it wasn't a game for me. It never was. I know what I said last night but it came out wrong. I wanted ... I mean..."
Miranda's expression had closed and she looked barely able to contain her fury.
"Never mind," Andy muttered. "I just ... felt your heart then. For a few seconds, I felt it. And that's it. OK. Shutting up now."
Miranda glared at her, jaw working. "Whatever you thought you felt," she said in a frosty tone, "Was your imagination. I was vulnerable," she ground out. "And you took advantage. You felt my horror at what Stephen had done, declaring his divorce plans via fax. You felt my pain for my darling girls. Nothing more."
"Miranda, you kissed me back," Andy persisted, her irritation gradually rising. Accuracy was her business. It meant something. Things like facts did matter. Disagree all you like with the fallout but don't revise history. She eyed her former boss in disappointment.
Miranda's head shook viciously once, sharp.
"Miranda..." Andy's hand lifted to brush the porcelain one hanging limply at Miranda's side. It was snatched away.
"How dare you!" This time the rage was magnificent.
Andy gave a short hollow laugh. "God. How dare I? What? Speak the truth? I have faced down a lot more frightening people than you since I left," Andy retorted, leaning in. "You don't scare me, Miranda Priestly." At Miranda's outraged hiss, she continued quickly, "But you do awe me. And impress me. And quite a few other things."
She leaned across, pressing her body well inside the space of the highly strung woman now in front of her, and paused, wondering if she dare risk this again. She captured Miranda's lips in a slow kiss, moving her lips gently, fingers clasping the lapels of her fancy jacket.
It took only a few moments before she felt the editor respond. It was just like last time. A tiny gasp, an exhalation that was soft and surprised, and then the flutter of lips against hers. She felt elegant hands drift to her waist and pull her tighter against her.
Somehow, and Andy wasn't entirely sure exactly when, she slid her fingers into that iconic coiff and deliberately raked through it, stroking, plundering, claiming it. She felt the crinkle of hairspray crackle and give beneath her wandering fingers. The power she felt from doing such a scandalous act shot straight between her legs.
They were still kissing, a languid exploration of textures and heat and lipstick and tongues, when the elevator dinged. Like opposing magnets they snapped apart, gasping.
When the door slid open bare seconds later, Miranda pushed past Andy instantly, as if speed was as vital to her as oxygen.
The reporter watched Miranda's long, determined strides, her own chest thumping with a matching ferocity.
She followed her former boss, slightly wobbly-legged, still not quite sure what she'd just done. What she'd just been permitted to do. Or what it even meant.
Suddenly Miranda slowed then stopped and turned and stared at her, a strange, burning, curious expression washing her features. The editor waited impatiently for Andy to catch up.
"What is your art preference?" Miranda said abruptly, eyes coolly scanning the hallway to ensure no one was watching or in earshot. The clackers had dived for cover the moment they'd exited the elevator, though.
Andy blinked. "Ah, crazy stuff. Abstracts. Or just lots of colors and interesting light. Turner and Pollock?"
"Mm. And your music taste? Do you still favor that ridiculous noise you have as a ring tone?"
"Hey K-Pop isn't ridiculous," Andy said with a grin. "Korean pop rocks! And why do you want to know?"
Miranda ignored the question and her, reaching into her handbag for a mirror. Her lip curled in disdain when she saw what Andy had done to her usually immaculate hair and she efficiently began to correct it as she asked her next question: "How would you define your politics?"
Andy frowned this time. "That's a little personal don't you think?"
Miranda stopped and glanced up. She shot her a look of such incredulity that Andy blushed. Oh yeah. Right. She had just snogged Miranda freaking Priestly for three minutes solid in an elevator. Now THAT was personal.
At least she sure as hell hoped so.
"Far left, personal liberty rules, with a splash of green," Andy answered. "And some fiscal responsibility but without throwing the underprivileged to the wolves. How would y..."
"All right." Miranda interrupted and that odd burning expression was back. She snapped her compact closed, tossing it into her handbag.
"Miranda, what... Um, aren't we going to discuss what just..."
Miranda snapped her a quelling look. "Post-elevator non-discussion rules apply, as I understood your terms. Now I have a lot of work to do and I suggest you do some yourself. In case you didn't see your little rag today you are now the page one news. And I do mean you."
Andy's heart lurched. She'd been so caught up in her personal dramas she'd completely forgotten about that. She must have looked stricken because Miranda actually smirked.
"It was a flattering photo," Miranda drawled. "Although I never realized you were on your college chess team. How ... exciting."
Andy emitted a strangled gasp at the humiliation that her freshman nerd streak had obviously made it to print in the paper's profile. "Uggh! Kill me now!"
"If you can't stand the heat," Miranda said, raking her eyes up and down with a proprietory gleam, "that would be most disappointing. Now don't you think it's time you finished what you started?"
At Andy's uncertain glance, Miranda rolled her eyes. "Stop stalling and end the mayor. That's all."
Andy's cell phone would not stop beeping with email alerts. Her parents wanted to gush over her page one profile. Old friends back home had tracked down her email address via Doug and they all wanted to know whether she remembered them and "what it was really like" being in a newspaper raid.
To hell Andy knew, she hadn't even been there.
Doug, her school and college friend who'd moved to New York with her and had drifted away two years ago, had left his own litany of increasingly hilarious messages on her desk phone at work (which thanks to her IT department she could remotely access now) – although it may have had more to do with his declining sobriety than a desperate yearning to rekindle their friendship.
"Andy," he'd said in the first of a series of breathy gushes, "Hell, girl, your picture is on PAGE ONE of The Mirror! Oh. My. God! And did you really call the Mayor's numbers as shaky as a carnie's stall? Christ! Where did you get those balls from? You are NOT the nerdylicious sweet thing we loved to tease in college. Wait, did some of that uber-sass rub off from the Ice Queen? It DID! I know it did! OK, let's do drinks. First round's on me. You can tell me what else has rubbed off on you from the wicked Miss P. Oh, um, yeah - by the way, hi, it's Doug."
Andy wondered what he'd say if he knew exactly how much rubbing had been involved between her and the imposing fashion editor that morning. She replayed in her mind the way firm fingers had dug into her ass and wrenched Andy's hips closer. She'd felt the hint of undulation against her. Yes, there had been most definite rubbing. She felt a thrill of arousal shoot through her and she crossed her legs.
She had to focus. It had been five hours, most of which had washed past in a blur. She'd barely seen Miranda all day, and Emily seemed to be indulging in a perpetual glower. It was like some grumpy piece of performance art.
"You think you're bloody famous now?" the redhead had demanded when Andy had first shakily sat that morning after that delicious elevator interlude. "God, that club will take anyone."
She helpfully tossed Andy a copy of The Mirror and added, "I should have guessed you partied hard at college with chess. It is quite literally the least cool thing any student on the planet could do at any given time, so I shouldn't be quite so shocked." She sniffed and eyed her. "Still, I suppose congratulations are in order."
Andy had grinned. "Thanks Em."
"Yes, well," the redhead shrugged, "One step closer to the end goal I suppose. Now stay out of my way. Your incessant smiling is blinding me and I can't work with my eyes shut."
By late afternoon, the mayor had done a radio show where he virtually accused Andy of making up "so-called documents" in a "politically-motivated smear campaign". Andy's teeth had ground together so loudly that she wondered whether Miranda had heard her from the next office.
By early evening, and after a conference call with her various editors and bosses, Andy had agreed they should print the documents the mayor had been baiting her to release. It still bothered her she couldn't work out why he was so keen. He had to have known they were real or he wouldn't have bothered with the raid. But, as Miranda had pointed out with her usual cutting insight, the man was a cunning political operator and Andy needed to know what was really going on.
Andy hated still having no answer to that question.
Miranda floated out of her office. "Andrea," she said and glanced pointedly at her watch. "Roy is here. Will you be joining me this evening?"
Andy's head snapped up. On the surface the sentence was delivered in her usual slightly sarcastic tone, albeit coated with an almost polite veneer. That in itself was shocking enough. Emily's eyebrows shot sky high.
But Andy saw more. Miranda's eyes were daring her. Will you be joining me in the elevator, she really meant.
She glanced down at her notes. There was nothing she couldn't finish up from the town house and email to work from her phone. Cool eyes were fixed on her, waiting.
Andy's mouth went bone dry. "Yeah, done here," she croaked. "We're putting out the evidence tomorrow afternoon. The, uh, the documents …" She faded out when she realised Miranda had her best "Do you think I give a fuck?" expression firmly in place. "Ah. Never mind. OK, yep, I'm coming."
Her brain seized. Why did she have to say that? Her cheeks flushed scarlet as she immediately crammed her research into her handbag knowing Emily was giving her a baffled look. She supposed it made a change from her trademark glowering inferno.
"Emily," Miranda said, amusement still dancing in her eyes, "Call Marcella and bring forward the showing to ten tomorrow. And I need a meeting with Gunther by midday. Tell him he must be ready. He's to bring all his work. No whining about time limits. That's all."
"Yes Miranda," Emily said, sharp eyes still fixed on Andy's flustered face. Miranda swept away, flinging a carryall over one shoulder. Andy rose and scrambled after her, still trying to corral her handbag and phone into some semblance of order.
"Fuck," she muttered under her breath as the elevator doors at the far end of the corridor opened and Miranda stepped in well ahead of her. There was a moment, a perfectly still moment, where time slammed to a halt. Miranda could either simply wait for the doors to close, staring out at Andy with a mocking expression because Andy was too far away to stop them.
Miranda paused and then, as the doors were about to close, huffed in annoyance and leaned forward, stabbing the Doors Open button.
Andy gave her a grateful grin and puffed inside. She knew holding the lift was probably a first for the Runway editor and given those hooded eyes studying her, Miranda knew it, too.
The doors slid shut. The elevator began to move smoothly down – at its usual snail's pace.
Miranda watched the numbers.
So did Andy.
At floor 17, the doors stopped, slid open, and a shocked minion squeaked at the sight of the white-haired occupant's withering glare, stammered an apology and stepped back.
The doors closed again.
"Well?" Miranda huffed impatiently and turned to look fully at Andy.
Andy frantically shuffled through everything she was supposed to say or do.
"Well what?" she finally asked, giving up.
"It's your turn," Miranda said with an impatient eye roll. She waved her hand at their elevator. "So. Confess."
Andy's mind went blank. "Oh," she whispered. Then at Miranda's impatient foot tap she slid closer to the other woman. She sent a prayer to the universe that this would work and admitted: "I confess I really want to kiss you again."
There was a beat. And another.
"I see," Miranda murmured in a perfectly even tone. "Well."
Well? Andy thought incredulously. What the hell does 'well' mean? The silence dragged on, and Andy grew more and more agitated.
Nope, this wasn't humiliating at all.
Miranda eventually sighed. "Well," she said again, leaning on the word as though teaching its importance to an especially dim-witted child, "I don't suppose I can stop you." The dancing eyes were back.
Andy took one look at the taunting expression and grinned. "No," she said cheekily. "How could the world-renowned editor of Runway magazine possibly stop anyone from doing anything?" She leaned forward, lips poised, but didn't make contact, dropping her voice to a whisper. "It's a preposterous thought, right?"
She paused, a hair's breath away from Miranda's own lips, curious as to what she would do. Miranda, famously, did not take well to being asked to wait for anything.
For a moment, two sets of faintly parted glossy rouged lips sipped air inches from each other.
"Oh for God's sake," Miranda hissed and closed the gap in a crushing kiss. This time it was her hands that raked through hair, tugging at Andy's brunette strands, combing them and then curling them around her ears before sliding an elegant thumb to the pulse point at Andy's neck.
Her tongue was demanding entrance and Andy acquiesced, tasting and teasing her with her own.
She slid her hands down to Miranda's shapely hips and then slowly curved her fingers down, cupping the toned ass that had been driving her crazy all day.
An actual whimper escaped Miranda's mouth and the fashion queen retaliated for her unexpected weakness by clamping hard on Andy's lower lip, almost drawing blood. Andy gave a strangled, pained groan, then felt an apologetic tongue lick the tender spot, kissing it better.
They came up for air at the second floor, and with enormous regret Andy let her hands slide from the firm swells of ass she had been enjoying squeezing.
"What," she gasped into Miranda's neck before she reluctantly stepped away, "are we doing?" It came out as a raw moan and if Miranda hadn't just been equally thoroughly marking her territory, Andy would have been appalled at how much she sounded like cheap whiskey, cigars and raw sex.
Miranda's smirk was pure Cheshire cat and when the doors opened at the lobby she stepped out and glanced back.
"Now, Emily," she husked, as she spotted a security guard within earshot, "I believe you yourself set the rules we're abiding by."
Andy groaned again, noting she was right: Once outside the elevator there was to be no discussion of elevator confessions. Her inner howl was of pure frustration as she trudged after the older woman to the waiting car.
The girls were waiting up for Andy again when she got home after another maddeningly silent ride. Although laying in wait might be more accurate. And when Miranda again went into the kitchen, they turned on her immediately.
"Well?" Caroline said in a fairly passable impression of her mother. "Are you making her happy now?"
God. Out of the mouth of babes.
Andy somehow suppressed the creeping flush as she rounded on her pint-sized interrogator. "Caroline, I don't think that's any of your business."
"Hey, you got my name right!" the girl said, briefly diverted. She looked highly impressed. "Even The Douche never did, and he lived here for three years."
Cassidy nodded in sisterly solidarity and added bleakly. "Three years. God, he sucked."
Andy rubbed her neck, not entirely sure what to do with a pair of precocious, undoubtedly spoiled, and also incredibly intelligent young women. The problem was solved for her by Miranda reappearing.
"What are we all talking about?" she asked curiously, eyes darting to all three females.
"Your happiness," Andy said tiredly. "And whether I am supplying it well enough."
Startled twin looks rounded on her.
Oh right. She'd said that out loud.
"What?" Andy retorted to those wide matching eyes, deciding retreat was far too wimpy when squaring off with the Priestly clan. "We were. And I'm too tired and over crap to pretend otherwise. I'm a big fan of honesty all round."
"I … see," Miranda said, shooting her daughters a curious look. They blinked back at her innocently. "And why do you feel Andrea should be in any way connected to my happiness?"
Caroline laughed incredulously, which Andy thought seemed way too cynical on a thirteen-year-old. Cassidy just rolled her eyes.
"God! Mom? Are you for real?" Caroline asked, flinging her hands up melodramatically. "We had to live here after you got back from Paris, too. We know who you missed more."
And for the first time since Andy had known her, Miranda's cheeks pinkened. A rosy tint also began darkening her throat and the reporter stared at it in astonishment.
Miranda's nostril's flared. "Bobbsies, I really fail to see what Paris has to do with anything. Or what you think you know."
"Mom," Cassidy took over quietly, elbowing her sister in the ribs to shut her up, "Do you really want us to answer that one? With witnesses?"
If it was possible the pink skin darkened even more and everyone held their breath as Miranda hesitated. The editor stared at an antique clock on the far side of the room, eyes following the intricate gilt-edged second hand. She flicked her eyes back to them.
"I think, perhaps, it's late, and you two should be in bed. We'll talk about this flight of fancy of yours at the weekend."
Disappointed expressions crossed twin faces but they didn't look surprised. They dutifully kissed their mother goodnight and gave Andy a brief hug. Their elephant-stomping up the stairs receded after a few minutes.
Andy chanced a look at Miranda, who was studying the designer rings on her right hand as though they were a dissatisfying layout.
"Miranda…" she began.
"Andrea," Miranda interrupted. "I need you to be available at noon tomorrow. And do not publish those documents before that time."
It took a moment for Andy to catch up with the abrupt conversation shift. "Why?" she asked earnestly.
"Noon, tomorrow," Miranda repeated. "You'll understand then." She rose. "Now, I have some work to do before Emily deigns to arrive with the book." She turned to go.
"Wait," Andy said, stalling the exit. "What about what the girls said?"
"They're young," Miranda said and sounded wistful. "I have given them so much. Too much, perhaps. They think that wanting a thing and having it are the same. That's rarely the case in matters beyond the material. Wouldn't you agree?"
"What if it is the same? The wanting and having I mean?" Andy looked at her intently, daring to hope.
"We both know it's not that simple," Miranda said with conviction. Her eyes became guarded. "Well, not as things stand."
This time she did leave, husking "Good night, Andrea," as she headed up the stairs.
Andy stared after her, wishing, not for the first time, that Miranda would just give a straight answer. Because right now Andy didn't have the foggiest clue about what was really going on - in her professional life, or her personal one.
Andy woke the next morning with a startled oomph. She cracked an eyelid to find Caroline and Cassidy bouncing on the end of her bed.
"Finally," Caroline said, "We thought you were going to sleep forever."
Andy glanced at her phone's clock and scowled. "It's barely six, girls." She thumped the cell phone back onto her night stand.
"Yeah," Cassidy said with a shrug, "We wanted to have an uninterrupted talk for once."
"About your intentions towards our mother," Caroline elaborated. "But she keeps getting in the way."
Andy flopped back against her pillow. Why me, she groaned.
She realised the girls were waiting for her approval for them to continue – she supposed that was something at least – and flipped back the bedding on the other side of the queen-sized bed.
"Fine," she said. "Get in. But no one had better have cold feet."
The girls grinned and scrambled their pajama-clad bodies under the sheets and made themselves at home.
"OK," Andy said, folding her arms and eyeing them. "Let's hear it."
"Number one," said Caroline, wiggling appreciatively into the warmth of the bed, "Why did you leave Mom? Did you hate her?"
"No," Andy said, askance. "I could never hate her. She just said some stuff I didn't agree with and I thought my job was changing me too much, so I left."
Cassidy frowned. "But then why did you run away? In the middle of Paris Fashion Week? Couldn't you just quit like a normal person? You know, here at home?"
"Have you ever just had enough of something?" Andy said. "Like, thought, 'You know what, I can't do this anymore'?"
Caroline and Cassidy exchanged looks and shook their heads.
"Oh," Andy sighed. "Right. Well, anyway, I'm not proud of the way I left your Mom. I hated that I upset her. She upset me, too. But I had to get away right then for my own sanity."
"She was sad," Cassidy accused her. "For ages and ages. She got really mad whenever someone said your name. Yet she didn't care if anyone said The Douche's name. So we knew you mattered and he didn't."
Caroline nodded. "We think it was that she missed you. Did you miss her?"
"Very much," Andy admitted. And wasn't that the truth. For the first six months all she could think of was the Runway editor, the shock of white hair and assessing eyes that followed her every move. It took over a year to not think of her every single day. Every second day, on the other hand... Damn woman had a way of getting under her skin.
"Do you love her?" Caroline asked slyly.
Andy's eyes widened at the impudent question. God! Not pulling any punches then.
"Girls, if I loved your mom, don't you think she'd deserve to hear that from me first? Wouldn't it be wrong to tell you two first?"
Caroline seemed to begrudgingly concede that point. "OK, then are you going to date her now? Make her happy like we think you should?"
"But absolutely no cheating on her," Cassidy inserted. "Cos that makes her furious."
"Yeah," Caroline echoed. "No cheating. Our mom is beautiful and amazing and the best and anyone who doesn't see that doesn't deserve her. Right?"
Andy couldn't argue with that. "She is definitely beautiful and amazing," she murmured. "But even if I did want to go out with her, it's not just up to me is it? What makes you think she wants anything to do with me after my current story wraps up?"
"You don't get it, do you?" Caroline said, exasperated. "Everything's about you."
"She started buying The Mirror when she got back from Paris," the girl ticked off her fingers. "She followed all your stories. She fired that assistant…"
"Francine," Cassidy supplied with a sneer. "What a mole."
"Yeah, Francine," Caroline continued, "For calling you a loser for ditching Mom in Paris."
"She did?" Andy's eyebrows rose.
"Mom also got all those clothes for you in the guest bedroom in case you ever came to stay one day," Caroline said, then confided proudly, "She likes to be prepared for everything."
"When did she do that?" Andy asked, her curiosity now burning.
"A year ago," Cassidy said. "She didn't say who they were for at first, she just kept bringing size fours in and hanging them there. No one we know is a size four. That's like huuuge in Mom's world. Then you showed up and we realized they had always been for you."
"This is nuts," Andy muttered, eyes widening. "Your mom hasn't even spoken to me in two years. She's had nothing to do with me in two years."
"Well she has now," Caroline said as though that was of little consequence. She stared at the reporter moodily and demanded: "Andy, you've got to get serious. Because we don't want her hurt again. So, no running off or changing your mind. You have to stay this time."
Andy stared at her, still trying to get her head around the fact Miranda more than just missed her. She apparently wanted her in her life. It seemed so unlikely. Although those delicious kisses weren't imagined.
"No running," she agreed numbly, still processing the impossible. "But I thought she only liked men?" she muttered, her tired mind not awake enough to censor herself.
"Who cares?" Caroline said, clearly seeing this as no impediment, "It's you she wants now. Besides none of those losers made her happy. She always had her fake smile and fake laugh and fake everything. She probably faked it, too, with them. Wouldn't surprise me." Her young eyebrows lifted, leaving Andy no doubt as to what she was referring to.
"Caroline!" Andy gasped, shocked. "How do you even know about … uh, faking 'it'?"
"We're thirteen in the internet age," she said archly. "Oh and we also know Becky Anders who's two years above us at school and she has a big mouth and lots of experience."
"Yeah," Cassidy agreed. "She's, like, an over-sharer. Like those women on Oprah. Do you watch Oprah?"
"Oh God," Andy whimpered and rubbed her eyes, as if that would regress the pair back to little pre-pubescent girls who didn't know anything about such things.
"Andy," Caroline sighed, "Can you stop looking so freaked out and just tell us: Do you want our mom or not?"
And if that wasn't the million-dollar question. Andy felt something between her legs clench at the thought of having Miranda, really having her. Even the possibility made her mouth go dry. And the thought wasn't even just about her body. But to have that sharp mind, biting wit, incredible charisma focused on her. Hell.
"Very much," she groaned. She felt a strange, illicit thrill at just saying it out loud.
"Good," Caroline said with satisfaction and she beamed. Cassidy wore a matching expression.
"That's the main thing," Caroline continued. "In case you're wondering, we think you're OK. Better than the other dorks she dated. You did get us that unpublished Harry Potter book. Kinda makes you instantly cool."
Cassidy nodded. "That's true. Oh and you're not fat anymore."
"Hey!" Andy protested. "Size six was not fat! You two have the most warped view…"
The twins both giggled and Andy realised she'd just been baited by experts. She narrowed her eyes in mock threat.
"And you're honest with us," Cassidy added simply. "We like that. You treat us like grown-ups and don't talk down to us."
"Girls, while I appreciate the vote of confidence, Page Six would have a field day if your Mom and I dated," Andy said uncertainly. "Doesn't that scare you?"
Cassidy scowled. "We hate Page Six. But we've been through it all before. We'll live. Besides they'll get bored soon enough. And if not, we still have our water guns and flour bombs from when the paparazzi camped out after The Douche left."
"How very evil," Andy noted, trying to keep the impressed tone out of her voice.
The girls snickered.
"That wasn't a compliment."
Caroline shrugged. "Whatever. Hey, can you make pancakes? We're hungry now and Cara doesn't start until 6.30."
Andy chuckled. "Sure," she said, sitting up. "I'm a legend at pancakes. Let me get changed and I'll meet you in the kitchen."
On the elevator ride up to Runway that morning Andy found herself studying Miranda for signs of interest in her. Well, beyond clearly liking kissing her former assistant. But Miranda, being Miranda, gave her an arch look and examined her nails.
"I know the rules of your elevator confessional are clear," Miranda suddenly spoke, breaking the tension, "But I'd like permission to discuss something said in here outside of it at noon today."
"Sure," Andy said. Her eyes floated across the stunning lilac Armani skirt suit Miranda had donned today. Frankly the designer should pay her to wear his garments, given how immaculate she looked. "Which bit?"
"Noon," Miranda repeated almost boredly. Then she turned to look at her square on, her eyes suddenly bright with mischief. "Now I believe it's my turn to confess?"
"Oh?" Andy said, eyebrow lifting.
"You look very fetching in Susan Wang," she husked and her eyebrows fell to Andy's deep cleavage. A finger lifted to Andy's collarbone and began to lightly dust a trail downwards.
"That's not a confession," the brunette managed to squeeze out as tingles erupted across her skin.
"Then I confess I find the bodice in particular to be well suited to your exquisite figure."
"You think my figure is exquisite?" Andy gasped as the questing finger dropped lower. "I… ah…"
The finger darted under the dress's material and skidded across to her lace-clad breast, circling it and rubbing with purpose. Her nipple puckered and leapt to attention instantly.
"Oh God," Andy whispered. "At least kiss me when you do that."
Miranda smirked, eyes dark with desire. She leaned forward without preamble and kissed her soundly. Andy reached up for the white hair and raked her fingers through it, pulling their heads closer. Both mouths opened immediately and Andy welcomed Miranda's tongue, touching and teasing it. She felt the arousal shooting through her lower regions and groaned. She wondered how Miranda could be so calm when she was coming apart at the seams. In some distant part of her brain Andy noted she should have brought a change of panties. Hers were already a mess.
Miranda's fingers explored her breast languidly as she kissed her thoroughly. When they finally separated, Andy's breath was ragged. She glanced up at the numbers, shocked to see they were already at sixteen. God. She had to get herself back under control. She adjusted her clothes, feeling her pulse still racing.
"Thank you for making my girls breakfast today," Miranda said serenely as she dug through her handbag for her compact. She began to touch up her make-up and hair. "You apparently make the 'world's best blueberry pancakes'. Or so I'm reliably informed by a pair of usually harsh critics."
"It was no trouble," Andy grinned. "I love to cook. That was my mom's special recipe. So, I'm glad they enjoyed them."
They ran out of things to say and it felt awkward and odd and weirdly sexually charged for a discussion about blueberry pancakes. So they both stared in silence at the numbers counting up until the doors opened. Andy's legs were ridiculously shaky as she followed Miranda down the corridor to her office. She wondered if the older woman fared any better.
At five to twelve, Andy was called into Miranda's office. "Shut the door," the editor said quietly.
Andy did so and lowered herself into the visitor's chair. She'd managed to regain her focus throughout the morning, working hard on a story explaining what the documents they were about to release meant and why they were so damning for Mayor Cantrill. She had not, however, filed it yet, nor sent her bosses the documents, instead waiting as Miranda had decreed.
Miranda leaned back in her chair and slid the end of her glasses into her mouth as she regarded Andy. It seemed incredibly sexual and Andy stared, transfixed. Miranda finally removed the distraction from glossy lips and spoke.
"Do you remember that Valentino showing, the one on the first day of Paris in the grand ballroom?"
Andy nodded. "Sure. Of course."
"Do you recall the ecclectic centerpieces on the tables?"
Andy grinned widely. "Yes," she laughed. "They were wild weren't they – like exploding rainbows. I loved them."
"Yes," Miranda said dryly. "I remember you appreciating them enthusiastically at the time. I believe you were likely one of only two people in the entire room who loved them."
"You loved them, too?" Andy asked hopefully.
"Certainly not. They were an eyesore. I was referring to you and the obviously colorblind floral arranger who put them together." Miranda's lips twitched into the shadow of a smile, which took the sting out. "But that was the first time I observed that you have a very different taste in art than most."
"Uh … OK?"
"Turner AND Pollock?" Miranda continued, incredulously. "You must realize how rare it is to love both ethereal stormy seascapes and a jarring fusion of random lines?"
Andy shrugged. "It's art. Individual. So what?"
"Your musical preferences are unexpected, also. Korean pop?" Miranda's eyes bored into hers. "I would guarantee you are the only person around who likes those music and art choices. Throw in someone with the same taste in music, art AND politics, and the odds are astronomically low you'd find someone else with a match in all three."
Andy frowned. "That's not true. Lisa Cantrill had the exact same tastes in those as me."
"Really," Miranda drawled. "You see, when you told me that the first time I was doubtful. I found it highly unlikely any two people on earth could share such disparate tastes."
"Are you saying no one could possibly like the same things I do? You find my likes are that unpalatable?" Andy said, hurt. "You see me as incompatible with anyone else?"
"I said no such thing. It's possible to be ... endeared to a person without sharing their interests. But that's not what we're discussing."
There was a knock on the door. "Miranda, Gunther is here for his noon appointment," Emily announced through the glass.
"Come," Miranda said and the door opened.
A middle-aged man with stomach paunch and a five o'clock shadow shuffled in. He had an off-the-rack suit that stood out alarmingly in the Runway offices. He was holding a briefcase as though his life depended on it. He shut the door behind him.
"Gunther," Miranda said. "Thank you for coming at such short notice." She indicated the chair next to Andy.
"Well you didn't leave me much choice," he grunted and his eyes scanned across to Andy.
"Andrea, this is Gunther Muller, my private investigator. He's proved most useful to me over the years, much to the chagrin of my ex-husbands. Gunther, this is Andrea Sachs."
He nodded curtly and sank into a chair, opening his worn tan briefcase.
"Right," he said. "As we discussed, I looked into Lisa Cantrill's past."
"You investigated Lisa?" Andy asked in shock.
Gunther peered at her. "You'll be damned glad she asked me to," he said. "Because that is one shady lady." He slapped some papers on the table. "Gym membership at First Class Workouts began two weeks before she met Sachs. Her student political activities, all hardline Republican. Here's the conservative church she goes to regularly with her family," he said and slapped down another page. "She was in a folk band at college called Five Flowers, if you can believe it. Her friends that I consulted told me she'd never listen to 'Asian trash' music as she seriously believes that Koreans, and pretty much all immigrants, are 'ruining the country'."
Andy gasped. Since when had Lisa held those extreme views? What the hell? She loved K-pop!
He plopped the statements on the desk. "And then there's this."
A photograph of a benefit landed on the table. A group of people in finery smiled at the camera. In the centre was Bruce Cantrill. "Fundraiser for the mayor a month back. Check out the pair to his right." Gunther's nicotine-stained finger stabbed two faces in the picture.
A long-black-haired woman with pale skin had her arm around a tall muscular blonde man with a goatee.
"Who are they?" Andy asked, mystified.
"Look again," Gunther said.
Andy stared at the two and suddenly gasped.
"That there is what your little lovebird usually looks like before she got the new Priestly makeover," Gunther said. "And that's her fiancé with her."
"Fiance?!" Andy repeated. "But she's, she's… She told me she was into…"
"Chicks? Yair. She lied," Gunther snorted. "I checked around with her friends. They say the Priestly hair went on two weeks before she joined that gym o' yours; her engagement ring conveniently came off at the same time."
"What are you saying?" Andy asked, a sinking feeling swamping her stomach.
"You've been played, Sachs. Like a fucking fiddle. You were profiled, and Lisa Cantrill turned herself into everything the profilers determined you wanted in a woman. Well," he flicked his eyes to Miranda and shrugged knowingly, "More or less."
Andy stared at him in shock. She felt Miranda eyeing her silently and lifted her eyes slowly. She swallowed at what she saw. The lack of surprise told her the editor already knew all this.
A flare of anger lanced her. "That's … this is all just bull," she ground out. "Lisa was a complete stranger to me. How could she know anything about me when we met at the gym? She told me first about loving K-Pop and abstract art and all that. She listed her left-wing politics before I said a word."
Gunther snorted. "Here's how," he said and slapped another page on the table. "This is just the easily accessible stuff about you from Facebook and other social media sites. Your taste in music, art and politics is all there."
"I keep my Facebook settings private," Andy snapped. "This is not out there for just anyone."
"Maybe, but your friends and family aren't so shy about your privacy. They post stuff from and about you all the time. Even a surface read of you yields this basic information. But, had they hired someone like me, and I suspect they probably did, they'd find out all this, as well." He slid another page across the desk and Andy began to read. The color leached from her face. The detail and accuracy was astonishing. First girlfriend? Favorite restaurant? Pet hates? "How?" she croaked.
He shrugged. "Money can buy a lot of information. And that Lily person you knew in college, the one who has an art gallery now? She's not much of a friend. She had lots of opinions on you selling your soul because of Miranda Priestly. She didn't even charge me a dime. Quite happy to run you down. Thinks you also have the hots for your old boss and that you cheated on some chef she's still friends with."
Andy flushed hotly. This had to be the most humiliating moment of her life. Her entire life had just been laid bare, her foibles and preferences placed on a neatly typed piece of paper procured by a complete stranger, for anyone to see. For Miranda to see. God. She didn't even want to see the look of pity on Miranda's face.
"Why did she do this? Reinvent herself to lure me in?"
"A little request from her father," Gunther said. "You're not the only reporter on the case of the missing funds, you know. There are two others on rival papers, respected journalists, considerably more experienced in their field than you. Brian Seaton and Rebecca Woods."
Andy blinked at the names. There was no denying they were esteemed New York political journos. If they'd broken this corruption story first, no one would question a word of it.
"They were working independently of each other, and were both pretty close to unearthing the documents. They had your story before you did. I have a contact who is very highly placed in the mayor's office. In fact it's thanks to him you got your head's up about the police raid."
Andy shot him a grateful glance. "OK."
"Well my contact, who is well paid by me to 'speculate' with authority on why the mayor does the curious things he does, suggests that Bruce Cantrill knew he'd be sunk if either of those two reporters got their stories published. Like I said, they were close to ready but didn't have the proof and the mayor knew it. He decided what he needed was someone to put out the story first the way he wanted it, someone he could burn, someone young and ambitious and on the rise who could be expendable when he pulled the pin.
"Then he would crush them and prove the story completely wrong. That way all others considering running something would hesitate. The police raid was about a show of intimidation to the other two reporters, should they dare publish, while also putting all the media attention on you. The aim was to build you up, make all eyes look at you and ruin you spectacularly. He just needed you to publish the exact documents his daughter had supplied and he'd have you."
"They're fakes," Andy guessed with a groan. She rubbed her head. "Oh hell. Lisa planted fakes for me to find."
"She did," Gunther said.
"But I checked with my source in the titles office. There are documents in her name and on those dates for those transactions. I mean my source couldn't show them to me, but she confirmed I was dealing with documents that exist!"
"Yes there are real documents," Gunther agreed and flicked through his folder and drew out copies of papers. He spread them in front of her. Andy stared at the pages. Dates, times, properties all matched what she had. The sales prices though, did not. All were ever so slightly different. The totals of all sales when added up came to the same amount, but none of the properties had what she had been examining for weeks.
"The bastard," she hissed. "If I'd run my documents he could have announced they were fakes."
"He was hoping you would," Miranda spoke for the first time. "And even if the other two reporters ran their stories later about the real documents, it would be too late. All that the public would remember was there were fake documents attempting to smear the mayor and they would disregard all the other stories about him as being similarly politically biased. Or fake as well. They'd probably even vote him back in on sympathy grounds over being unfairly targeted by an 'unscrupulous' reporter trying to make a name for herself."
"Oh God." Andy's big break was little more than an elaborate con. She felt her world crumple beneath her feet.
"Hey now," Gunther said gruffly, eyeballing her, "No need to look like I shot yer puppy. I'm giving you the real documents now. Nothing's changed. No one even has to know you were writing those other stories with fakes. All of what you wrote now can be backed up with these. Run these and it's the same result." He tapped the pile. "Like the other shit never even happened. Even better, the mayor will get the shock of his life. You'll have him."
Andy stared at him. "I'll know the truth."
"Andrea," Miranda said, eyes narrowing, "Run the real documents. Bring down the mayor. Remember the goal. He's still corrupt. He has to go."
"God," Andy said. "I can't believe how stupid I was. Shit."
"Gunther," Miranda said and indicated the door with a head tilt.
The man stood and shuffled out. "I'll invoice you, Ms Priestly. Later."
He closed the door.
"You're not a fool," Miranda said sternly. "It was a clever con. You met a woman who seemed to share your tastes and who was made to appeal to you in every way…"
"She was made to look like you, you mean," Andy retorted. She grimaced, never having felt more exposed. So – even invisible political insiders knew her secret desires. How humiliating.
"You were profiled," Miranda said not unkindly. "They took an educated guess based on who you were and where you'd worked and the things you've posted online. And maybe they spoke to that one-time friend of yours to understand who you were interested in. But they chose you because they thought you were an up and comer likely to go in, guns blazing and see this through to the end. You are that. There is no shame in being ambitious and pursuing what's important. If I recall, our conversation in Paris discussed this very thing."
"And you recall how that ended?" Andy said darkly. She stood. "I was selected for this con for being the very thing I hated you pointing out about me. Ambitious. They saw me as ruthless." She flushed as a memory floated to mind.
"Oh god. We almost slept together," Andy whispered. "Lisa said I was so pretty and she really liked me and we kissed, but I'd been drinking so we didn't. And all that time she had some man, some fiancé and she hated everything I stood for! Nothing was real. Hell, I feel so gross."
"I'm sorry," Miranda said. And she genuinely looked it.
"I know," Andy said. "But I can't be here now. I have to think some things through."
At Miranda's concerned look and Andy gave a hollow bark of laughter. "Don't worry, I'll use the documents and destroy the mayor as agreed. We can't have anything getting in the way of New York Fashion Week, can we? Certainly not a tight-fisted mayor."
Miranda's expression darkened. "You believe that's why I did this?"
"Isn't it? God I don't know anything anymore," Andy said sourly. "I don't know who to trust or why people do anything. Fuck!" She shook her head angrily. "But thanks for stopping my career going up in smoke. God knows you could have just let me burn."
Her hands coiled into fists, overwhelmed by everything she knew. She looked up into icy eyes regarding her impassively. She thought she could see sympathy in their depths and Andy tried to suppress the tears she felt building.
This really couldn't get more humiliating.
Miranda said nothing as Andy scooped up the files and folders Gunther had dumped on the desk, and left Miranda's office.
"Where are you going?" Emily demanded as Andy reached her desk and fumbled for her bag. "You're supposed to keep a low profile, not be gallivanting around in public."
"Somewhere else," Andy muttered. "Anywhere but here. I doubt I'll be back. Have a great life, OK? Try and eat something once in a while."
Emily's mouth fell open and for once she said not a word.
She felt pale blue eyes watching her through the glass wall as she took all her things and left.
Andy went home. Mrs Richards from apartment 108 greeted her at the bottom of the stairs, while slowly hauling her laundry upstairs in a basket on her hip.
"Oh, Andy child," she said, "You're OK! I was so worried when the police came."
Oh crap. Police raid. Andy wondered whether her few worldly possessions had been tossed around, or worse. It occurred to her how telling it was she hadn't even thought about it once until now. She clearly didn't put much store on what little she owned.
"Does my apartment still have a door?" she asked gingerly, eyes flicking up the stairs as she followed her elderly neighbour. Andy held her arms out, wordlessly offering to take the other woman's heavy laundry. She got a wide, wrinkled smile for her efforts and the basket landed in her arms.
"Oh heavens, yes, and thank my boy for that one. He's a lawyer, you know."
Yes, Andy knew. Mrs Richards managed to insert that little factoid into every conversation without fail. She kept trudging upwards behind her and waited for her to continue.
"My boy was here when they came by, three officers, and Jason asked to see the search warrant while they were still banging on your front door asking you to open up. Well! He spotted it at once, right away! The date for the search was wrong. Oh it was just a clerical error but the law's the law and it was still illegal. And my boy told them that they could just pack right on up and drag themselves back to the office because he'd make a big old fuss if they didn't. He was recording it all too. On one of those phones you youngsters all have? They didn't look too happy but they left all right. And, I was watching out for them, but they never did come back."
Andy just bet they didn't return, given the raids had been orchestrated stunts. It's not like the mayor didn't know the source of her documents.
At the memory of those papers she sighed.
"What is it, dear? You look wrung out. Here, let me take my washing back. You look like a stiff breeze would tip you over. I thought you'd be happy the police didn't go through your little place?"
Andy nodded tiredly. "I'm very pleased. Tell Jason thanks from me. I mean it, that's … yeah."
She faded out, unable to muster the enthusiasm to be properly grateful and then she felt guilty she couldn't. She gave Mrs Richards an apologetic glance.
Gnarled fingers patted her arm. "That's alright, dear. You go have a rest and a cup of tea. Whatever it is will pass. Always does, sooner or later, sure as the sun comes up."
Andy gave the elderly woman a smile at her kindness and unlocked her apartment and stepped inside.
Everything was exactly as she'd left it. It was funny, she'd expected something to be out of place. To match her mood, perhaps? In its sameness, though, from the dusty second-hand shelves crammed with her favorite books to the old TV on an apple crate she hadn't turned on in a month, it seemed oddly disordered. Disjointed.
This used to be a place of solace. Now it felt like a vaguely sick joke. Lisa had been by here a few times. Kissed her senseless on the sofa, too. Pinned her down, laughed against her neck. Nuzzled her. Whispered adoring compliments in her ear. For a woman with a fiancé, she certainly seemed to have no problem bending a little for the ladies.
Andy kicked off her shoes and sat, staring accusingly at the exact spot they'd made out, wondering whether the whole time Lisa had been really swallowing back her disgust. If so, she'd never seen a better actress.
Andy shook her head, trying to rattle out the thoughts. She still had a deadline to meet. She dropped Gunther's documents on her coffee table and methodically went through them.
Focusing was easier said than done, though. As the minutes ticked by, her mind kept straying to every humiliating detail of her meeting. Why her? Was "gullible" stamped on her forehead? Why had the mayor's team chosen her and not the next reporter?
Her eye fell to a note Gunther had scribbled to himself in a margin, and she tilted the page sideways to read it.
"Illinois girl". The Illinois was underlined.
So. Assumptions had been made about her origins.
That's 'why her'.
She turned it over in distaste.
A stabbing memory hit her. Miranda had known. All along. From the first moment she heard who Andy's source was, she'd realized immediately something didn't add up. Why hadn't she shared her suspicions? Why didn't she tell her about bringing in Gunther to check her theory?
Instead she'd done what she always did – whatever she wanted, consulting no one. And she'd let Andy make a fool of herself in the elevator with her every day, knowing far more of Andy's private life and personal business than she'd ever shared with another living person. Even Nate hadn't known some of the things in Gunther's report. And Miranda had also known Andy was into women who looked just like her. That had been the whole conclusion of the profiling, after all. How completely humiliating.
Was that a heady thrill for her? The power? The knowledge?
Was this just a game to her as well? She'd certainly made a production out of plucking her from work just minutes before the raid. Had that been for show, too? Extra dramatic? Did it give her a thrill to swoop in and do that, playing to her enamored audience of one?
Andy frowned. Miranda's hurt had seemed so real when she'd questioned her motives. But even if she had done all this for Andy, it wasn't the point. Miranda had played her, too. Andy didn't even know why she was shocked. Miranda played everyone. It was who she was. No wonder she so quickly worked out when others were playing Andy.
The reporter's guts ached from studying the wheels within wheels. Everyone seemed to have an angle. The only one being pulled around, who had little say in the game, had been Andy. She was starting to feel like a ragdoll, tossed and twisted about for everyone's amusement or their own ends.
She rubbed her face as if that would scour away her cheeks reddened with shame, and tried to figure out her next step. What do you do when the whole world has played you as a total fool? When your whole world is manoeuvring you even now? When even the people claiming to be on your side are still pushing you down a path of their choosing, making the decisions for you. Robbing you of your own agency.
What do you do?
An idea struck her that was so shocking, so audacious, so risky that Andy gasped.
Did she dare?
What would it cost her?
Did that even matter?
With shaking hands, Andy unpacked her laptop and began to type furiously.
The next day dawned far too early and bright for Andy. She hadn't slept much and, with little enthusiasm, she picked her cell phone to check the time. It was the original one she'd had, and she'd rammed the battery back in last night after realising her arrest was no longer imminent.
She'd had it on silent mode.
15 missed calls.
She scrolled through them. Doug. Her mom. Her brother. Colleagues at The Mirror made up the rest. She checked her new phone, too: The twins. Miranda. Four times. Nigel.
She supposed she'd better face the music.
She knew what was coming today but facing her looming public humiliation could wait another hour. So she rolled over and went back to sleep.
Three hours later she was more successful at attaining vertical. She rose and showered and dressed and had a straight black coffee. (The milk was off and she couldn't find the sugar.) She checked her old phone. Now it said 22 missed messages. A few unknown numbers were in the queue now. Plus her editor had rung.
Shit. OK. She dialed Greg first.
"Sachs!" he bellowed. "I was starting to think you'd burrowed in a hole somewhere, never to be seen again."
"Tempting," she said. "Really tempting."
"Ha!" he laughed. "Well, helluva piece you filed. I mean it. Knocked everyone's socks off. Bravest damned reporting I've ever read, and I've read a lot. Christ! You could have just run the real documents. I realized that as soon as I read what happened. Hell I'd never have known you never had the real ones. But you gave us both sets!"
"You ran them both?" Andy checked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "I meant for you to. Sorry, I haven't had a chance yet to check how The Mirror treated the story."
"Did we run them both?" Greg guffawed. "Ran them side by side as a page one splash to show the extent of the scam, with the details of the con on you printed in a breakout panel, down the side. We broke out the details on how they'd profiled you and what Lisa Cantrill did on Page 3, and ran some before and after pics of her to prove it. You know – pics of her hanging off her boyfriend all lovey dovey a few weeks back and then with her new hairdo matching the boss you said you were in love with. Hey who was she, by the way? You never said."
"How is that relevant?" Andy said archly. "Besides anyone with my résumé could figure it out in three seconds. Naming the boss Lisa emulated was not the point. The seduction scam was."
"I suppose," he said, sounding disappointed. "But I don't think Cantrill's 'do looks anything like Anna Wintour's so that rules her out."
"Greg, for the last time, I never worked for Vogue."
"Oh. Right. Oh, by the way, I rang because if you haven't got your TV on now, you really should."
Andy's eyebrows shot up, and she fumbled for her remote control. After a few minutes the picture cleared on a press conference. A furious looking Cantrill was just leaving the stage, with three of his four children in tow. Suspiciously absent was Lisa.
"He just resigned," Greg said with enormous satisfaction. "He resigned! Lord how he was spitting it. I thought he was going to throw the microphone over some of the questions. Bob Mason at The NY Daily asked whether pimping his kids out to seduce unsuspecting reporters was his usual MO or just a one-off. Some other wag asked if Lisa's middle name was Mata Hari. Oh God, his venomous expression was worth it for the admission price."
"I'm glad my ongoing humiliation is giving you such a good laugh," Andy grumbled. "I'm sure I'll be mocked just as much as the Cantrills in coming days. My reputation will be in the toilet. They'll call me stupid, gullible, weak and probably find a way to hammer me for my sexual preferences."
"Ah, sorry Sachs. I know. I know you copped a shit sandwich to bring him down. I gotta ask though: Why'd you go for the thermonuclear option? You really could have just swapped in the real docs. No one would have ever known except the mayor."
"I know," Andy agreed. "But New York's First Family is twisted. People who voted them in have a right to know everything they're up to.
"I also realized there was no way any of the Cantrills could deny what happened if the journalist making the allegations had so much to lose from them. If they'd said I'd lied, it wouldn't be believable because I had nothing to gain and everything to lose by telling my story."
"You left him absolutely nowhere to wriggle," the editor said.
"That was the point."
Greg gave an impressed grunt. "Oh, by the way, Sachs, TMZ's reporting Lisa Cantrill's wedding's off. The fiancé dropped her like a steaming pile of something this morning. The boy was telling anyone who'd listen that he was shocked and devastated and she wasn't the woman he thought she was."
"Fancy that," Andy said with a small smile. She yawned. "Sorry. Been running on vapors for a few days."
"I'll bet. Tell ya what, file Steve something on your reaction to the resignation, maybe six or eight pars, and then take a few days off and recuperate. We'll talk on Monday. And if anyone gives you shit, point them my way. Geez, Sachs." She could almost hear him shaking his head. "Bravest damn story I've ever read. OK, later. Great work."
The phone went dead.
Great work, she repeated hollowly in her head. Then why did she feel exposed and like she'd been flayed in public? Everyone now knew everything. Her deepest secret was out there, too.
Her eye slid to two names who had tried to call. Her mother. Well, she'd always said honesty was the best policy. Andy might be able to spin that particular chat.
She had no clue at all how that conversation was going to go. She stared at the number on her phone display and wondered what she should do now. And how she even felt. Neither question had an easy answer.
Andy eyed the Priestly twins over a milkshake at the McDonald's she'd finally agreed to meet them at after school. Their increasingly dramatic texts had worn her down. They were nothing if not persistent.
Now the conversation had been circling around the drain for five minutes.
"I'm not running away," Andy repeated as she picked at a fry. She pushed it away. She didn't know why she'd ordered them. Her stomach was already messed up enough. "It was one night. A time out. I needed to think through some stuff. And where did you two get that vocabulary from anyway? I'm pretty sure your mother doesn't know you know half those words you texted me."
Caroline blew furiously into her chocolate shake, gleefully watching bubbles erupt, then glared at her. "One day, a hundred days, that's how it starts," she declared. "No running meant not going anywhere. And we're thirteen-year-olds with internet access, remember. Of course we know plenty of insults."
Andy sighed and fidgeted then prodded at another fry. It was cold. "One night is just that. You're going to have to realize grown-ups have lives of their own and they won't always be under the same roof, even if I do end up with your Mom. It doesn't mean automatic catastrophe, nor should you be having meltdowns and jumping to the worst possible conclusions complete with insane trolling."
"So you're coming back then?" Caroline asked hopefully. "To Mom? She was really upset last night. We could tell."
Andy's stomach clenched as if she'd just been punched. "I don't want her upset, girls. That's the last thing I want. I really like your mom. But I've had a huge thing happen to me, and it's messed up everything."
The girls exchanged knowing looks.
Andy winced. "Oh God. You two read my story?"
Sheepish twin nods.
"Mom didn't want us to see it but we looked it up on our iPhones at school." Caroline looked especially unrepentant.
"And we think Lisa is evil and a fake and a stupid mole," Cassidy declared. "TMZ says her boyfriend dumped her skanky ass. Good! Besides no one wears Mom's hair as well as Mom. But, Andy, you said you'd loved Mom in the story. Do you still love her? And if you do why are you staying away from her?"
"It was only one night," Andy groaned, resisting the urge to thump her head on the table. She gathered her thoughts to try and find a way to explain that they'd understand.
"It's been a really confusing time for me," she began. "Do you two realize how badly Lisa hurt me and how a bunch of strangers in the mayor's office got together to set me up? They hired investigators and worked out my weaknesses and tricked me? That was horrible."
The girls nodded somberly.
"And when I was hearing all about what had happened for the first time, I was in shock. You think all sorts of bad things when you're upset. And I didn't know who or what to believe anymore, I had so many feelings and in the middle of all that I also couldn't understand why certain people I trusted had kept important things from me. It's difficult feeling like a pawn in everyone else's schemes. It's like I had no say in anything. I know at your age you get what that feels like."
She took a sip of Diet Coke.
Cassidy tilted her head and regarded her closely. "Was Mom the one who you trusted? Did she keep things from you that you wanted to know?"
Andy eyed her. Damn those two were sharp. "She's a bit on the enigmatic side," she admitted uneasily. "She likes her games and secrets."
"But that's just Mom," Caroline protested. "Andy, come on! She never tells people anything, you know that! So what? Who cares?"
"So what?" Andy said, eyebrows shooting up. "I might remind you of that when you're dating some tall dark broody man who never tells you what he thinks, ever. You'll go mad trying to work him out. And then you might even start to leap to all sorts of Machiavellian conclusions."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Andy, it's not hard at all to figure out Mom. Don't you know all you ever have to do to know what she thinks is to look at what she does, not what she says."
Andy stopped sucking on her soft drink and stared. "What?" she whispered.
"Did you know she had Roy program that awful Korean radio station into the car stereo in case you wanted some K-Pop?" Cassidy asked.
Andy blinked. She hadn't known.
"She put size fours into the guest closet for you," Caroline said. "For a whole year."
"And hid you out at Runway when the cops were after you," Cassidy said and sighed dramatically. "That was sooo romantic."
"She saved your career, too," Caroline added with an 'are you dense?' look. "What do you need to know beyond all that? Geez!"
Andy looked at her and replied quietly: "What I need beyond that is to know how she feels. I can probably take her pushing everyone around as she sees fit, doing her secret schemes, but I need to hear that." Andy shook her head adamantly. "And maybe you're too young to understand, but that's not too much to ask."
"Pushing people around is her way of helping them," Caroline argued, licking the straw on her shake as she eyed her. "Mom just doesn't know how to say that she wants to do favors for people. Cos then they might make a big thing of it which she hates. So she just does it this way and hopes people get it and figure out how she feels."
Andy felt flattened by a truck. That actually sounded kind of true. She knew even Nigel, who had been shafted by Miranda in Paris, had been suddenly given an unasked for (and sizable) pay rise along with his own assistant – Emily – in compensation. Plus other promises later. Not that she'd said so much as a word of sorry. Or a word of anything.
"She could have just said what her intentions were," Andy tried feebly, as the last tendrils of confusion and faint outrage dwindled.
"And you could have just known," Cassidy said. "Why do grown-ups make everything so complicated?"
"Well to be fair I was in the middle of the worst moment of my life," Andy said with a glare and folded her arms. "Mind-reading your Mom to figure out what her schemes all meant was not high on my list right then."
"Whatever. Now can you go make it right?" Caroline said impatiently. "Because I want some more blueberry pancakes tomorrow morning. And you're our best supplier."
Andy laughed at her mercenary look. "Ahhh. Now it all becomes clear."
Both girls giggled.
"Seriously though, we mean it, Andy," Cassidy said earnestly. "Fix it and we'll stop bugging you and sending you rude texts."
"For this month," Caroline amended arching an eyebrow. "We like to keep our options open."
"Deal," Andy said. "God, help me. I can tell you two are going to be a handful."
The next day Andy washed her laundry, did some housework and considered and rejected a grocery expedition as too much work, while she contemplated for most of the day her options regarding Miranda. Which, given there were only three, was pretty much overkill.
One: Wait for Miranda to come to her and explain herself. That had earned her an incredulous laugh. Because, yeah, that had happened exactly no times in living history.
Two, do nothing. This she ruled out immediately. Because even if Andy wanted to break her own heart and not pursue the possibilities with Miranda, she suspected rude texts were the least of what the cashed-up twins were capable of. Her mind goggled at all the many and varied schemes they would mastermind to force her to get a clue and a spine.
She smirked. Those two scamps. It was hard not to like them now, despite them being far too indulged to be wise. But God they were shrewd. They missed nothing. They would grow into formidable women. Andy decided she'd rather like to be there to see that.
Then there was option three. Mohammed goes to the mountain. Which is how Andy had come to be riding the elevator at Runway for the past seven minutes. She'd been standing by until Nigel had tipped her off that his formidable boss was one "Coat, bag!" demand away from being about to head out. And, since no one had taken "Andrea Duncan's" Runway pass back off her, Andy had been free to implement what she hoped was a bold scheme.
She hoped another elevator confessional chat would force them both into talking. Really talking. Well as much as one could in as many four-minute rides up and down Runway's floors as Miranda would stand for before storming out in irritation.
Andy decided she was embarked on either a really cool idea, or an exceptionally stupid one if Miranda had already entered a different elevator car. At that thought, Andy groaned. For all she knew Miranda was even now heading home with her driver, having left the building five minutes ago.
Shit. Genius, Sachs.
At that moment her elevator suddenly opened on floor nineteen. Those doubts fled as entirely new ones surfaced.
Startled blue eyes fixed on brown.
"You!" she heard squealed from behind Miranda.
Ah. Emily. Predictable as ever in defense of her dragon lady boss. Andy sighed. "Hey Emily. Uh, hi Miranda."
Miranda was still staring at her in shock. She hadn't moved forward, Andy noted anxiously. But nor had she stepped backwards. So that was good, right?
"You've got a lot of cheek coming back here," the disembodied voice said before Emily finally wedged herself into view. "Do you have any idea how many calls I've had from the gutter press wanting to know if Miranda Priestly has any comment on the love-struck journalist once in her employ who brought down the mayor?"
"Oh shit," Andy mumbled. "That didn't take them long."
The door beeped, indicating it was about to close. Andy's eyes shot back to Miranda's in a panic, wondering whether she'd enter or wait for the next ride.
"Well obviously not," Emily sniffed. "Fortunately for you I think you don't entirely deserve to be thrown to the wolves. You did save New York Fashion Week by ruining that tight-assed mayo…"
The doors slowly began to close, forcing Emily to arch her neck into ridiculous proportions to try and continue her miffed diatribe.
"Miranda," Andy said simply, staring imploringly at her.
Miranda nodded abruptly and Andy's hand instantly shot out to keep the doors open. Miranda entered in two strides and turned back to face Emily.
"Emily," she whispered in a low tone, "I'm quite sure Andrea has far better things to listen to than all the ways you were required to do your job today. That's all."
Emily's mouth snapped shut instantly.
"Em?" Andy added with an apologetic expression, "Sorry and thanks."
"Yes, well," the redhead said, looking uncomfortable. "By the way: You two?" She waggled an accusing finger back and forth between them. "I knew it." She gave a satisfied gleam just as the doors shut.
That wasn't awkward at all.
"I must say, Emily," Miranda said coolly to Andy as the elevator began to sink, "I'm surprised to see you here."
Andy rammed her hands in her jeans pockets. "Well, we're not done yet."
"No?" Miranda inquired. Her face was cool but her tone was curious.
Andy shook her head. "Seems like this was the place we talked the most, so I'm reinstating traditions."
"I see. Well, if you wish to discuss your article, I read it. You disclosed everything, I see. And both documents."
"Why? You didn't have to. It was professionally and personally safer to stick to only the real set."
"I know," Andy said. "But, cliché as it sounds, my first duty is to the truth. All of it. Even the inconvenient stuff that drowns us with embarrassment. People needed to know what the Cantrills were like. If that cost me the respect of my peers, well, so be it." She tried to look unconcerned.
Miranda turned her head to look at her directly.
"Even if you do not have their respect, you have mine. I have never seen such courageous writing. You are a remarkable journalist, Andrea."
"Oh." Andy didn't know what she was expecting Miranda to say, but that wasn't it. "Ah … thanks."
"Emily wasn't incorrect about all the calls we received from people who had worked out who Lisa Cantrill was emulating."
Andy flushed and looked down. Crap.
"The 'former boss you loved'," Miranda quoted.
Shit, shit, shit.
"Nothing to say now?" the fashion editor asked curiously. "Since you've gone to all this effort to be in our little confessional space?"
Andy licked her lips. "I'm not ready to discuss that at the moment," she whispered, still staring at her shoes.
"Ah," Miranda said. "Well I was going to mention that amid all those calls also came some from friends of mine in publishing who wanted to know whether you were looking for fresh challenges. They thought it poor etiquette to call you at The Mirror, but seeing you'd made your … prior attachment … to me clear they wondered if I'd pass along their details to you. They are offering jobs."
"What? Who?" Andy's head snapped up in surprise.
"Edgar Sheppard at The New Yorker. Glenn Preston at Vanity Fair. Marjory White at Rolling Stone. Peter Gentry at Time. You impressed a great many people this week – and not because you ended a corrupt mayor's reign. Many a reporter over the years has won political scalps. It was how you did it.
"Unflinching, raw honesty is a rare thing, Andrea. Especially honesty where the reporter puts themselves on the line, knowing it will likely not end well for them. But you did it anyway. People notice that. Important people."
Andy stared at her former boss in astonishment. The mastheads she'd named were dream jobs to anyone in publishing. "Holy …" she said half to herself. She blinked at Miranda. "You know that's not why I did it, right? I didn't want to be the story. I never did."
"I'm well aware. And yet, whether you like it or not, you are famous now, Andrea. Whether you capitalize on that now for the good of your career or not is up to you, but you'll always be remembered for that ground-breaking story."
"You thought it was ground-breaking?" Andy gaped. Miranda, who never gave anything more than a passing "adequate", had found something ground-breaking in Andy's work?
"Don't let it go to your head," Miranda retorted. She offered a tiny quirk of her lips.
Andy matched the small smile and fell silent. They didn't speak for two more floors.
"Miranda?" Andy said after they crossed the equator – floor ten, "About what I said. That day, when I questioned your motives…"
A dark expression appeared and Miranda's nostrils flared. "Must we?" she said. "I don't wish to return to that distasteful conversation."
"I was mad. I'm sorry about what I accused you of, but I didn't think it was right - and I still don't - about how you crept around behind my back like that. I was very angry."
"I'm well aware. You don't hide your emotions well."
The doors opened on Ground level, and Andy immediately stabbed the button to 20, the highest floor in the building.
"Do you even get why I was so angry?" Andy asked.
Miranda stared at her for a moment then gave a curt nod. "I do."
"Can you spell it out, so I know you understand?" Andy persisted.
"Really, Andrea, this is childish to…"
"No," Andy said, biting off her comment sharply, in irritation. "You don't get to belittle me just because you disagree with what I say to you. I'm not your underling. Now, please, back up and try again."
Miranda stared at her in shock.
Andy bit her lip as the silence dragged on, wondering if she'd gone too far.
Miranda glared at the numbers. "How long do you intend for us to ride this ridiculous steel box for?" she asked, fingers fidgeting.
"As long as is necessary."
"For us to work things out and hopefully have a decent chance together. To do that we need to clear the air and start from a position of equality."
The sentence hung in the air and that was the first time, Andy realised, that either of them had admitted the possibility of being together in any way.
"Is that what you'd like?" Miranda asked. "For us to have something together?"
The question sounded so harsh and loud against the background thrum.
"Don't you want that, too?" Andy asked. "Because if you don't, tell me now. If I mean nothing to you, nothing more, please, I need to know."
Miranda sighed and leaned back against the wall, eyes closing. "I'm not ready to discuss that at the moment," she said tightly, quoting back Andy's words.
Andy digested that. "OK," she said and leaned back, too. "Can you tell me one thing? Why didn't you let me in on your suspicions about Lisa? And hiring Gunther? That really hurt not even being involved in my own freaking conspiracy. It made me feel played. Like how Lisa played me. Not to mention you knowing all my personal details from his research. You could have said something."
Miranda pursed her lips and for a moment Andy braced herself for the inevitable snap that usually followed. What she said next though shocked her.
"I didn't know how," she admitted.
"What?" Andy stared at her in confusion.
Miranda folded her arms and glared as though someone else was somehow responsible for her inability to communicate.
"What would you have had me say?" she demanded "How about, 'Andrea, will you allow me to use my extensive network of informers to investigate my belief that your presumed lover is using you in an elaborate scheme to protect her father? Oh by the way I strongly suspect she doesn't love you at all and never did'. Now, imagine if I'd said that and been wrong…"
She continued glaring.
"Oh," Andy said. "Why did you do it then? Why do any of it? Saving me from the raid, letting me hide out here?"
"Can't you guess?" Miranda asked, as her eyebrow lifted.
"That's just it," Andy said tiredly, resisting the urge to bang her head back against the elevator wall. "I don't want to guess. I want to know. I need you to tell me or we have no future. I know you never explain anything but just this once, I need you to. This matters. It matters to me."
"Are my deeds insufficient? You need words so badly?"
"Words are my life, Miranda. Words are what I live and breathe."
A flash of fear crossed Miranda's face just as the door dinged and opened at floor twenty. Miranda stabbed the Ground button and it closed.
She eyed her. "Andrea," she began and suddenly her voice dropped to a purr. Andy started at the sudden, charged shift in atmosphere. In a blink of an eye Miranda had slid inside Andy's space, her lips pressing feverishly against the reporter's, fingers digging into her hips.
"Why ruin things with words?" she murmured, dropping her lips against Andy's neck, pausing to nibble the skin she found. "And by the way, I never read Gunther's reports on your personal details. I felt that would have been a violation. I only ever wanted to protect you, not spy on you."
"Thank you for that. But you have to understand - words are what I believe in," Andy tried again, gasping when she felt a thigh unexpectedly push between her legs. "Oh God."
Miranda pressed herself hard against her, hands roaming deliciously.
"Why do you make me so irrational," the editor demanded, flicking at a clearly defined nipple pressing against Andy's white T-shirt. "Always wanting explanations from me? Words must be spoken… Can't we just …"
Her lips were back on Andy's and the brunette swallowed a groan as Miranda's tongue teased hers. The thigh pressed harder against her center and Andy felt herself aroused beyond belief.
"Please, Miranda," she pleaded, tearing her mouth away. "Just give me something. A few words. A direction. A hope for us? What's the harm?"
Miranda kissed her harder, almost angrily at the plea, and then just as suddenly as she'd started, she relented.
"I've tried," she whispered after a few more soft nips on Andy's plump lower lips. "It's so easy for you. My God, you even put your romantic declarations in print for the whole world to see." Her eyes flashed. "I'm not like that," she said. "Andrea, I'm not that brave."
"They're only words," Andy whispered back. "Words that just happen to be true. And right now, right here, we're alone, no one to see you. I won't use your words against you later."
"You already have," Miranda said and turned her head to one side, pressing it against Andy's shoulder.
"What do you mean?" Andy asked in astonishment.
"In Paris. I said some things, things I thought were perfectly logical. Perfectly frank and fair. And you took my words, twisted their meaning into something only you understood, and you used them to run from me. I didn't see you for two years. Never again, Andrea."
"Oh my God," Andy whispered. She tightened her grip.
"Never again," Miranda repeated, voice hitching. "I won't lose you again through the carelessness of words or the vagaries of their interpretations."
They reached the Ground floor. The doors parted, as did both women. They looked at each other, aware something honest and real had just passed between them, uncertain what to do with that knowledge.
Miranda straightened up to full height again and looked as much a fearsome editor as she ever had. Andy marveled at how she could do it. Put her game face on in an instant.
"As delightful as it is to ride the ridiculously slow Runway elevators with you, I do have a prior engagement," Miranda said and stepped out. "I have agreed to pizza night with the girls."
"Oh," Andy said and felt a jolt of guilt. "Sorry, I didn't know. I wouldn't have waylaid you tonight if I had."
Miranda threw her an impatient look. "Well, now you know." She began to stride towards the building's glass doors outside which waited the town car without a single backwards glance.
Uh OK, Andy thought, pensively watching her go. She strolled out slowly behind her, to not make it obvious they'd been together in any way, let alone, God forbid, riding an elevator together.
She watched the shapely derriere of the world's most fashionable magazine editor as she strode towards the curb, nodded at Roy, and entered the car.
Their conversation had resolved little. But she supposed now she at least had an understanding as to why Miranda was so cautious with her words. She wondered what she was meant to do with that knowledge. What was next? Was there a next step? Miranda had left everything open-ended.
She headed further outside the Elias Clark building and glanced around. This was like so many nights after a late finish when she'd been an assistant. The streets had a sweet and sour, faintly polluted smell to them, the buildings were still brightly lit and towered over her. Yet it was so different. Everything was changed. Her whole future was, too, judging by those incredible job offers. And yet all she could think about was the woman she had left behind two years ago. The hard-to-please, elusive, white-haired editor who still owned something inside Andy, a piece she couldn't dislodge.
She sighed and wondered whether she should splurge on a taxi or hit the subway, when the town car's tinted window rolled down.
"Andrea," came an impatient voice. "Do stop dawdling. The girls don't like to be kept waiting. Especially when they're hungry."
The window rolled up again and the car door snicked open.
Andy rolled her eyes and suppressed a grin at that eternally maddening Priestly presumption. She was sure she saw a flash of a matching smirk from within.
Pizza night, Andy discovered, entailed making your own pie from a smorgasbord of ingredients covering every surface of the counter in the kitchen. She lost count at thirty toppings.
"Sure you got enough choices there?" Andy asked the twins incredulously, who flashed matching wide grins.
"When Mom texted us you were coming for dinner too, we figured we'd better get everything out in case you don't like what we do," Cassidy said earnestly.
"And we also found the fattest, most unhealthiest toppings we could since it was for you…" Caroline began with her evilest smirk, eyes dragging down Andy's jeans to make a point.
"Caroline!" Miranda barked as she entered the room. She tossed Andy an apologetic glance, then turned a scathing expression on her daughter. Caroline gulped.
"Girls," Andy jumped in hastily, forestalling Miranda's wrath. She knew by now that their Fat Andy schtick was the twins' idea of comedy. Bad comedy, but still. "You've really gotta improve your material. Unoriginality is so lame. At least dazzle me with your wit when you insult me." She grinned at them.
Caroline almost dropped the spoon she'd been using to gloop tomato paste onto a small whole-wheat pizza base. "You're challenging us to insult you better? That's so dumb."
"No, 'dumb' is boring fat jokes you used to make two years ago. Dumb is not stretching your powerful brains to their fullest. Have you two ever heard of Oscar Wilde?"
"That dead gay Irish writer guy," Caroline said. She rolled her eyes then artfully arranged sliced vegetables on her pizza.
"Not even close," Andy said and pulled a small round of dough to herself and began constructing her own masterpiece. She added the spiced tomato sauce and reached for some exotic-looking cheese and a tray of small diced meat bits. They looked like some pretty fancy ham - that special $35 a pound stuff. Figures. She gave her pizza base a good sprinkle of ham. "Oscar's like a super hero for writers like me," she explained to the girls. "Yes he's Irish and gay and dead. But he was much more than that. He wrote incredibly clever plays. He was famous for being witty and dry and caustic. Do you know what that word means?"
"It means clever and mean at the same time," Cassidy guessed. "Just like mom!"
Miranda coughed. Andy swallowed a laugh which came out sounding like a choke. Miranda shot her a mock glare.
"Yes," Andy agreed with a twinkle. "Not unlike your mom. Only wickedly smarter – if you can ever imagine such a thing." She grinned. "Anyway, he got his fair share of attacks back in his day but his secret weapon, which is what I love about him, was his brains and words. He could defend himself brilliantly well with his sharp tongue. He used his mind, his skills with words and won over plenty of fans.
"You two are lucky because you have good brains and vocabularies – and if you use them well you'll be unstoppable. But if you only ever go for cheap insults, that's like wasting a super power, don't you think? Why don't you try to be brilliant instead of lazy? Anyone can be obvious. Well, I challenge you to be legendary."
Miranda's eyebrows lifted at the moral of Andy's little speech. She leaned into Andy's ear as she passed by her to get her own mini pizza base.
"I'm not sure I want to encourage them to offer everyone 'legendary insults', Andrea," she husked, making the hairs on the back of Andy's neck spring to attention.
Andy watched as Miranda efficiently began to make herself a neapolitana. She observed, transfixed, as pale, tapered elegant fingers sprinkled low-fat cheese and razor-thin slices of tomato.
For a moment nobody spoke: Miranda expertly made her pizza, Andy drooled over Miranda, and the girls watched their interaction, nudging each other's ribs while suppressing giggles.
"Oh," Andy suddenly said, her brain finally catching up with Miranda's objection. She looked at the girls. "I meant for you to be legendary with your words in general. If you only use insults, you're limiting yourself and just being shits for the sake of it. OK?"
The three Priestly women froze. Miranda's head snapped up and she glared at Andy, who blinked in surprise. She mentally reviewed what she'd just said.
"Oh shit!" she gasped, clapping a hand to her mouth. "I mean crap. Ah. Shoot! Hell! God I really suck at this. Maybe I should, um, shut up? Yeah. Wise move, Sachs. Just stick to pizza," she muttered, blushing in embarrassment.
The girls giggled and Miranda shook her head, but that endearing hint of a smile was back.
Four individualized mini pizzas were slid into the oven and everyone watched as Miranda checked the temperature dial was hot enough and set the timer.
"Well," she said as she straightened and turned, catching Andy's eye, "apart from corrupting my daughters' vocabularies further, how would you like to fill in the next 15 minutes?" she asked.
Andy flicked a considering look at the girls who exchanged meaningful glances and seemed to have some sort of unspoken twin conversation.
"We have homework," Cassidy piped up.
"Yeah," Caroline nodded. "Important homework."
"Now?" Miranda frowned. "Didn't you do that when you got home?"
"We have a little left over," Cassidy said. "Why don't you two, ah, relax?"
They didn't wait for an answer and scrambled inelegantly out of the room and up the stairs.
When the stereo thumping of footsteps died down, Miranda eyed Andy. "They're not very subtle, are they?"
Andy grinned. "No. But what 13-year-old is?"
"Thank you, by the way," Miranda said, as she reached for a wine bottle and found two glasses. "I'm sure my tearing strips off Caroline for her rudeness to you would have caused an ugly scene that I very much did not want this evening. You defused it well by getting them to think about the way they use their words.
"But I worry about whether they have enough empathy," Miranda added with a sigh as she poured the wine. "It's so easy for them to be casually rude. Too easy. I've tried to break them of the habit but I'm well aware it's hypocritical of me. As my youngest by two minutes just pointed out – 'clever and mean' is my trademark."
"They're actually great kids," Andy reassured her, taking the glass Miranda handed her. Their fingers brushed, lingering for longer than was necessary and their eyes met. Andy shivered. As casual and relaxed as Miranda looked in white cotton pants and a pale blue button-down shirt, her eyes were dark and burning - studying Andy with a great deal of interest.
Andy took the glass shakily and had a sip. It was delicious.
"I get why you're frustrated. Their brutal honesty is confronting and sometimes rude," Andy continued. "But to be fair, on this occasion, they knew I was in on the joke. They're also pretty funny and sweet in their own way. And they can't lack too much empathy if they're always trying so hard to find you your happy ending."
Miranda considered that and took her own sip of wine, finally giving an acknowledging nod. She seemed relieved by Andy's summation of her girls and her shoulders relaxed. Suddenly she looked up, as though a thought had struck her, and she caught Andy's eye challengingly.
"You took them to McDonalds," she accused in a low voice. She folded her arms and hiked an eyebrow.
"Yep," Andy agreed, trying not to sound defensive. "Seemed like neutral territory, not too far from your place. They had a lot of venting on me to do. I was left under no allusions as to all the ways I had to straighten up and fly right and not hurt you." She grinned at the memory of their outrageous decrees. "And I am apparently to make them blueberry pancakes again. I'm their 'top supplier' now."
"Ah," Miranda said, taking a sip of wine. "Well. Is that something you'd wish to do?" She fidgeted with her bracelet. "Would you want to stay here on occasion, enduring my daughters' cutting but well-intentioned slights, and cook us all blueberry pancakes?"
She glanced up. The question might have been intended lightly, almost an attempt at humor, but the hesitation and fear was not hidden. Andy understood the subtext. What she wasn't asking because she was afraid.
"I think," Andy said and placed her wine glass down on the counter, edging closer, "That I have never had a better offer than that. If you'd like that, too? Bearing in mind that I know I might not always provide, um, the best pancakes. Sometimes they'll be a hot mess, because I will be, too. And what if you get bored with … um ... what I make you? That's something a dedicated pancake maker like myself would worry about. You finding someone new and way better-suited to cater to your refined tastes."
Miranda leaned forward and lowered her lips against Andy's ear. "I will always want your pancakes," she whispered. "There is no one better suited for me, though God knows I've tried to convince myself otherwise for the past two years."
Andy blinked at her in wonder. Could she mean...?
Miranda swallowed. "In truth, since you left me-"
"Left Runway," Andy corrected. "I never left you."
"Regardless," Miranda said, eyes flashing, "After you were suddenly gone from my side, after you left me alone on the steps of l'Hôtel Crillon to the clutches of the paparazzi, I found things have not been the same since. I have tried a great many things to return my equilibrium. Nothing has worked."
She flushed faintly and hesitated. "Then one day, to my consternation, I suddenly found myself hanging size four outfits in my best guest bedroom. When the girls asked who they were for, I had no answer. I was taken aback at what I had done."
She rubbed her temple. "I'm quite certain now that my subconscious was screaming to make itself heard but at the time it was mystifying. I continued to go about my business, dating eligible men who were deemed suitable in every way, and, yet, every once in awhile I would bring home size fours. Size fours that would look stunning on you."
"When did you realize?" Andy asked, transfixed by the tale, "Who they were for?"
"Nigel," Miranda huffed. She pursed her lips. "He asked me one day whether you were secretly back at Runway, smuggling clothes out of the closet. It hit me like a truck."
"Wow," Andy muttered.
"Mmm," Miranda said, less impressed. "It certainly wasn't 'wow' for me. I started to think I was losing my mind, craving a girl half my age who'd left me."
"Runway," Andy tried feebly.
Miranda glared. "Me. You left me. And over what? Silly, silly words!" She looked outraged and threw a hand up in the air. "Couldn't you have just talked to me about that awful conversation you took such exception to? I mean, really!"
"Miranda," Andy said gently, "You and I never talked. Not back then. You were my scary world-famous boss and I was your lowly assistant who didn't ask you anything. I couldn't even warn you about Irv's power play for your job without you slamming the door in my face mid-sentence."
Miranda winced. "Well, nonetheless, you were suddenly gone for ridiculous reasons and within a year I discovered I had a wardrobe full of clothes apparently only meant for you. Caroline finally cornered me one day and asked when I was going to get you back so you could wear some of them while they were still in season."
Andy chuckled. "That sounds like her."
"Indeed." Miranda agreed. "And then fate conspired. I'd been following your career - surreptitiously of course. It wouldn't do to show an interest in a paper so tawdry as The Mirror."
"Gee thanks. It's not that bad, you know. I mean it did unseat a corrupt mayor this week." She shot her a cheeky grin.
"True," Miranda said, returning the smile. "So I was aware how you'd moved up to covering local politics. Then one day my private investigator mentioned something in passing while we were discussing a different matter. Something about how the mayor was setting up a young reporter to fry her. I asked which reporter, and what method the 'frying' would take. He said he'd find out. I only heard about the raid ten minutes before you did. I wasn't attempting to be dramatic as you claimed. Since I was already in the car when I took Gunther's call, I simply had Roy divert to your building."
"Sorry I said that," Andy said. "Really. And just so you know - I have never been so glad to see someone as when I saw you again. You were just ... such a sight for sore eyes. I'd missed you."
"Well," Miranda said and hesitated. "Seeing you again has ... It's been..." She shook her head, frustrated. "I have had concerns ... grave concerns since I've seen you again as to what I will do if you were to leave once more. I would find that unacceptable, Andrea," she said, her voice unnaturally rough. "Do you understand me?"
Blue eyes regarded her, filled with honesty and a sharp fear.
"I have no reason to run now, Miranda," Andy said gently and reached for her hands, squeezing them. "All I've ever wanted is right here. And, to my enormous surprise, you seem to want me too."
A small noise of what could have been relief sounded. Miranda's mouth worked but still no words came out.
"It's like this, Miranda," she said and ghosted her breath warmly against Miranda's soft throat. Her heart thundered in her ears as she took a deep breath. "I was in love with you for the last three months I worked for you. And I ran away in fear of getting too far away from the sweet girl from the Mid-West I liked to fantasize that I still was.
"The inconvenient truth was that I hadn't been her for a long time and the mirror you held up for me was an ugly one. But I never stopped feeling more for you than an assistant should. And even if you don't trust words, here are some for you to really believe: I still love you. And it would break my heart, too, shatter it actually, if you didn't want me or decided to throw me away later."
Miranda groaned, a primal, urgent, almost pained sound, and swallowed the rest of Andy's words with a fierce kiss that she felt down to her toes. Arms curled around each other, pulling their bodies together. When they separated, their arms were still locked around each other.
Andy felt cool air as Miranda pushed back suddenly. She stared at her in confusion only to find clear eyes were looking past her, fixed on the door.
"How long have you two been there?" Miranda asked coolly.
"Um," Cassidy said, "We got hungry. Sorry. We can go if you want to kiss Andy some more."
Miranda's cheeks turned flaming red and she opened her mouth but no words came out.
"Well we would continue," Andy grinned nonchalantly, sliding her hand reassuringly into Miranda's, only to find it trembling, "but who can kiss on an empty stomach? Should we check the pizzas?"
They nodded excitedly and raced over to the oven. Miranda shot Andy a grateful smile and she shrugged. So what if they'd been caught? Hell, it's not like the girls weren't firmly on Team Miranda and Andy. She paused. There had to be a better way to say that. She frowned. Ah well.
Miranda had on a ridiculously domestic-looking pair of oven mitts (Martha Stewart brand, naturally) and was sliding four little pizzas onto the counter. Andy's was a riot of meat and an explosion of cheeses. It looked fantastic in every way, she decided, smacking her lips.
"Oooh, Andy, your pizza looks like cow's mastication," Caroline announced and gave her an expectant look, eyes bright and hopeful.
"That's much better," Andy exclaimed, pleased, as she admired the insult for its creative properties. She added to Caroline earnestly: "But remember cows are vegetarian and my pizza is pure meaty goodness. So it doesn't quite work."
"Told you," Cassidy elbowed her. "Should have gone with the zombie's brains."
"Zombies are unoriginal though," Caroline protested to her twin. "She told us she wants original insults."
"You have unleashed monsters," Miranda hissed to Andy in feigned dismay as she passed her on the way to the plate cupboard. She straightened with the crockery in hand and addressed the room. "And no one will insult anyone further tonight, no matter how 'legendary' or 'original' the attempt."
Twin shoulders sagged. "But we had some good ones planned!" Caroline tried. "I even looked up some Oscar Wilde quotes!"
"You did?" Andy said, perking up in delight. "Which ones?"
"No, no," Miranda said firmly and shot Andy a warning look. It was undermined by her blue eyes glowing warmly. "Cassidy, napkins, please. Andrea, could you put these on the table? Caroline, juice out of the fridge and two glasses, please."
Dinner was quite possibly the most fun Andy had ever had that didn't involve locking lips with Miranda Priestly. The conversation flowed, the laughs were plentiful and Andy challenged the girls regularly to come up with better ways to say the things they did. They also traded great stories about their lives and the girls shared with her their interests. By the end of the evening, she'd promised to indulge them in a Wii game or two the next morning because, by unspoken agreement, everyone at that table somehow knew she was staying over.
She supposed it was surreal if she stopped and thought about it long enough. She chose not to dwell or she'd never make it to the end of dinner, thinking about what other delights the night might bring.
Miranda had fallen silent somewhere around the coffee and dessert stage and had stayed out of the news and current affairs trivia challenge Andy had introduced. She was just watching her, eyes smouldering. Andy caught the look more than once and had almost smashed her wine glass to the table in nervousness. Arousal pooled and she crossed her legs. Miranda merely smirked and sipped her own wine as if she knew the effect she was having.
The girls were yawning soon enough and Andy realised it was already ten. She bid them goodnight with a quick hug, while Miranda kissed them both and promised them blueberry pancakes from the world's 'top specialist' in the morning.
The girls had grinned cheekily. "About time," Caroline whispered in her mother's ear, just loud enough for Andy to hear. "We like her a whole lot. And not just for the pancakes."
Miranda snorted and had given her a quick hug and an extra kiss and sent her upstairs.
Andy gathered their dishes in a pile, wondering where the fancy kitchen hid the dishwasher.
"Just stack those there," Miranda said, pointing. "Cara will take care of them in the morning."
"Are you sure?" Andy said. "I don't mind."
"I do," Miranda said firmly. "You cannot tease me all evening with that clever, sexy mouth and big brown eyes and then spurn me for dishes. Especially not after what you said before we were interrupted by my Bobbsies."
"Oh, right," Andy said and flushed, realizing she had indeed confessed her undying love to Miranda in her kitchen a mere two and a half hours ago. "About that…"
Miranda tensed, her face dropping.
"No, shit, no," Andy intervened hastily. "I'm not taking anything back. I just thought maybe we should pick up where we left off. The kissing bit. You're not the only one feeling tortured right now."
Miranda's smile was magnificent. Andy thought it quite possibly replaced the need for electricity across a two-block radius, so dazzling was it. Her breath caught as she stared. Then gulped.
"For God's sake, Miranda," she whispered. "Will you take me to bed now? Haven't we waited long enough?"
Miranda's eyes danced. "I thought you'd never ask."
In the months and years that would follow, Andy would take much time to admire every inch of Miranda's large, elegant bedroom, its cleverly complementary shades of blue and cream, its stylish framed black-and-white original photos of nude female curves and its spectacularly luxurious queen bed.
But the first night, from the moment the door closed and the lock snicked shut, Andy had eyes for only one thing. Well, several things:
The feather-soft skin that was under her hungry lips as she pressed Miranda hurriedly against a bedroom wall.
The texture of the delicate lacy white bra she'd unearthed after fumbling to unbutton the fashion queen's crisp shirt and relegating the blue linen to a puddle on the floor.
The smell of exotic perfume Andy had no hope of naming teasing her nostrils from behind dangling expensive pearls, dripping from Miranda's ears.
And the taste of hardening, crinkling nipples that she'd tongued voraciously after tugging bra cups down over alluring swells.
"Bed," Miranda groaned, her neck arching against her off-white bedroom walls. "I will not have my first time with you up against a wall, even if it is my wall."
Andy reluctantly let a delicious portion of breast plop from her mouth and took a step back, pouting as Miranda's lacy bra sprang back up, partially re-covering Andy's prize.
Miranda smirked at her dismay and reached behind herself to unclasp the La Perla. She dropped it unceremoniously to the floor. With her breasts fully bared, Andy stared, licking her lips. "Miranda," she croaked, as she felt a flood of moisture rushing to her core, "I really don't think I can get as far as the bed. I don't think I can walk at all."
Miranda laughed and sashayed towards the impressive piece of furniture dominating the room, swinging her hips in such a way that Andy's brain fried itself.
"What a shame," the editor purred. "Perhaps you just need the proper motivation."
Andy watched as Miranda reached her bed, unbuttoned her pants deftly and slid them slowly to the floor. She stepped out, one pale bare leg at a time. She wore only a thin thong.
"Fuck," Andy whispered reverently.
"Oh I intend to," Miranda said imperiously and lay back like a queen in the middle of her magnificent bed. She eyed her. "Come."
Andy swallowed. "I will in a second if I see even one more inch of you," she admitted, heat flushing her skin.
"Is that so?" Miranda asked and slipped her fingers down to dust along her thong. Andy watched, blinking rapidly, as fingertips ran up and down the cream-colored material, and then slid to the right. Not taking her eyes off Andy, she pulled one side of the thong away, baring swollen, wet lips to wide brown eyes.
"Gah," Andy gasped and scrambled across the room, pulling clothes off as she went, not caring in the slightest about how undignified she probably looked. She could not tear her eyes from the sight of Miranda now elegantly stroking herself, in long, languid motions, fingers sliding along a bare slit which had a small neat tuft of white curls at the top.
Miranda was watching Andy from under her lashes, irises blown huge with desire.
"Do move at a glacial place," Miranda said softly, tilting her hips up for a moment and then sighing. "You know how that thrills me."
Andy virtually squeaked, trying to get her jeans off even more hastily, finally wrenching them down her thighs with more force than finesse, taking her white panties with them. She kicked them away.
Naked, she finally stood before the fashion queen, whose dancing fingers were now glistening with her juices.
"They say if you want a job done properly, you must do it yourself," Miranda noted, her voice husky with arousal, and hitching every time her fingers skidded over her swollen bundle of nerves. "I don't necessarily subscribe to that theory," she said, eyebrow quirking as Andy clambered over to her on the bed. "All one needs is an exceptional assistant, do they not? And you always were the very best at assisting me."
Andy swallowed and nodded, heat blooming across her chest, barely able to stop gaping stupidly at the erotic sight before her.
"I loved assisting you," she admitted hoarsely, her hand sliding over to tangle with the wet fingers slipping around between Miranda's thighs. "Why don't you let me?"
Miranda nodded, pleased, and let Andy take over. The brunette immediately tore the thong down Miranda's thighs and took a moment to reverently study what she'd unearthed. Miranda twitched impatiently.
"You're so beautiful," Andy whispered in conclusion, leaning forward, nudging the editor's legs. "Can't wait to taste you. You're divine."
Miranda's breath caught, her chest rising rapidly and she parted her legs wide, opening herself up to Andy to fit between her thighs.
Andy's tongue darted into the moisture gathered along her slit and drew it up to her clitoris. At the first taste, she almost came herself. She moaned excitedly against the swollen flesh and drove her hips into the soft bedding.
"Fuck," she muttered. "So turned on right now."
Miranda's knowing smile didn't unsettle her for once and Andy shot her a cheeky smirk. "You won't be so smug in a minute," she informed the quivering flesh beneath her lips. Andy licked it again. Delicious. Piquant and a little sweet. She began to lap in earnest, running her tongue down, to swirl around her entrance, and then slithered up again, circling Miranda's clit. She slipped a finger in, gasping at how firmly she was pulled inside. She added another and was startled to hear an unexpected keening noise.
Her eyes flicked up to see Miranda's head thrown back, a look of incredulity on her face, her spine arching. Strangled, inarticulate sounds were humming and gasping from Miranda's twitching lips.
Andy pumped harder, twisting her fingers, curling up, while licking and nibbling.
"AndreaaaAAAA!" The half scream suddenly dragged itself from Miranda's raw throat, wrenched as though against her will, and wild eyes flashed open to fix on Andy in disbelief at what she'd somehow invoked.
The flesh under Andy was now covered with cum, coating her lips and tongue and chin. It was messy and slippery and chaotic and everything Miranda wasn't and it was completely, utterly sensational and Andy loved every minute of it. She never ever wanted to be deprived of this again. Never. Ever. Ever. She felt Miranda's passage tighten, pulses squeezing her and then another wave of heated liquid coated her exploring fingers.
Miranda slumped bonelessly back in bed with an undignified squeak and Andy took great care in removing her fingers and delicately cleaning her - every bit of liquid from every bit of glistening flesh, like a cat meticulously attending to itself.
She was being watched, she knew, and she skated her eyes up, up over the milky skin, the belly button and soft, ample pillows of breasts, the leonine curve of neck and the now wild coif of disarrayed white hair. Blue eyes looked into hers - open, clear, lacking all guile. It was the first time Andy had seen someone that naked. She felt humbled.
"I love you, too," Miranda whispered. "So you'd better be serious about this. About us. Because I couldn't handle it if this was just some..." She waved her hand.
Andy sat up and offered her a reassuring smile. "I'm deadly serious," she said. She stretched out alongside the woman she'd loved for two and a half years. "I'm not going anywhere unless you don't want me anymore. Which would break my heart but, well, that'd be your choice."
"Silly girl," Miranda said, and rolled her eyes. "Even if I took complete leave of my senses, I think the girls would stage a rather vigorous protest at me allowing you to leave us. Such is the power you have over the Priestly women."
"Wow," Andy said and grinned happily, coiling an arm around Miranda's chest, tweaking a nipple on the way past. "I had no idea."
She felt Miranda's hand curve across to her ass, and begin to stroke it. "Well now you do," she said. "And I intend to prove my affections, due to the vast limitations of mere words."
Andy swallowed at the sultry purr and found herself suddenly pinned on her back, the editor covering her with her body. Then she was being kissed by a woman who clearly knew how. These were not the taunting and passionate teases from the elevator, nor the affirming kisses from the kitchen that promised much more. The soft mouth covering hers was passionate and constantly moving and murmuring, telling her over and again that she was needed, and wanted and loved, and as the lips headed lower, to her neck and collar bone and finally a nipple, she truly felt it.
The swirl of Miranda's pink tongue across her hard nipple generated a tremble. But when she began to chew and nip at her, Andy felt her arousal shoot up into the upper atmosphere.
Hands replaced lips on her nipples as the snow-white head ventured further down her body, pausing above her hip bone for a jaunty lick and swirl across the jutting flesh. Fingers drifted down from Andy's breasts and clenched into the flesh of her ass cheeks, kneading them as Miranda's head ducked even lower.
She impatiently nudged Andy's legs apart with her knees and lowered her lips towards her mound, eyeing her with a predatory gleam.
"My," she husked. "Someone's ready for me."
Andy flushed, well aware she was dripping. "Your damned fault," she retorted. "Being so hot and sexy and kissing me like that. What chance does a simple girl from the Mid West have?"
Miranda laughed then, one of her rare genuine laughs. It vibrated straight through Andy's superheated skin. "God," she groaned. "Miranda, please touch me."
The editor paused for an agonizingly long moment and then pursed her lips in an eerily familiar way. Andy immediately recognized the expression that doomed the world's best designers and terrified assistants en masse. Miranda pursed her lips just so, pointedly, deliberately, just above Andy's clit and let them whisper faintly across the erect pearl.
"Oh," Andy whimpered, staring at the impossibly hot sight. "Oh my God."
Miranda smiled and then let the tiniest tip of her tongue peek out to dot the top of her clit. Andy's hips bucked desperately.
"No, no," Miranda drawled languidly. "Patience."
"You're killing me!"
"I doubt that," Miranda smirked and let a little more tongue extend as she flicked Andy with it.
"No, I'm seriously dying," Andy whined, her chest heaving. "If you don't stop teasing me and start fucking me, I'll … I'll… Shit."
"Tsk. And after all those lectures you gave to the Bobbsies about using their clever words," Miranda teased, eyes twinkling. "And here you are stumped for absolutely no reason."
"No reason?" Andy gasped and tried again to lift her hips up to receive the benediction from that wicked tongue, maddeningly just out of reach. "What if I said I'll die without your tongue on me. In me!"
"Then I'd call you melodramatic," Miranda replied serenely, and offered a little more tongue, slicking the top of Andy's clit and pulling back. Her white forelock fell forward as she studied her glistening canvas, well pleased.
"You're diabolical," Andy pouted. "My god!"
"So I've been told," Miranda countered. "My assistants find it my worst fault." She paused her teasing touches. "Will you really suffer if you don't get more of me, Andrea?" she asked with deceptive casualness.
And there was just something about the voice. Andy stilled, pulled abruptly from their sexy game, and her eyes searched the face that was watching her closely. A face that held a hint of fear and vulnerability.
"Yes, I will suffer enormously if you don't touch me right now," Andy replied sincerely, and lifted her hand to massage through the white hair, looking at the blue eyes peering up from between her thighs. "I will not cope gracefully without you in my life. I would cope grumpily and messily and furiously and generally just badly. So I'd rather not go without. You are everything I need. Everything I want. I do love you, Miranda."
Miranda's warm breath washed over Andy's skin for a moment more, and then she was upon her - licking and lapping and nibbling and cherishing her. Talented fingers and a slippery tongue found her every secret crook and fleshy curl and lavished attention on them. Andy watched the iconic hair she loved so well bobbing up and down between her legs, still unable to quite believe that Runway's famous Ice Queen was the one loving her so thoroughly. So warmly.
"I love you, Miranda," she murmured, as the sensations began to build. "Love you," she repeated as long fingers slid up deep inside her and began to stroke her walls. "Love the way you look at me … oh! … the way you touch me … the way you want me… T-THERE ohgogohgodi'mcominggonnacum…"
Andy felt the telltale wash of bliss, the sharp tug from inside as she clenched and trembled, the softness of murmuring lips fevering strange words across her lower, bare lips, and it was only after she came, spectacularly hard at that, and her brain stopped fizzing with ecstasy that she made sense of the confusing jumble of Miranda's tiny, exhaled words.
Andy drew the older woman into her arms, curled a white, wet kink of hair away from her porcelain cheek, tucking it around her ear. She held her tenderly.
"I won't," Andy whispered. "No, never again." She dropped kissed on her hair. "Never again."
Hands tightened around her and she felt Miranda's wide, pleased smile warming her skin.